How does society influence one's own behavior?

How Corona is changing society : "The fears mix with hopes"

Medical research on the new corona virus is in full swing worldwide. Science is working around the clock on vaccines and drugs in order to slow down the pandemic as soon as possible. But the non-medical consequences such as curfews, quarantine and home office - as useful as they may be - have expected social, economic and psychological side effects.

Because the historical turning point of the Covid-19 pandemic is fundamentally changing people's lives and work. Initially taken by surprise by the landslide-like events, the social sciences are now in the process of reorganizing themselves. Because despite the currently necessary focus on medical questions, it is necessary to also accompany the social implications of Corona with systematic research.

The first approaches are in the making, various studies are about to begin. For example, the Berlin Science Center for Social Research (WZB) has corona-alltag.de A survey has been put online that examines the effects of the pandemic on the work situation and family life of people in Germany. The study is to be updated as a process - the participants are called upon to document the changes in their situation as the crisis progresses.

“Scientific information is currently booming,” explains the sociologist in charge of the study, Lena Hipp, when asked by the Tagesspiegel. “Above all, the life sciences are currently setting the tone in the debate.” The social sciences now also have to come out of cover in order to provide guidance in the “still surreal situation for all of us”.

Background about the coronavirus:

The researchers are interested in the question of how people from different population groups are affected by the non-medical effects of the disease. What influence do age, gender and origin have on the relevant crisis experience? Do the typical worries vary between the different groups?

One hypothesis that now has to be verified empirically is that the said effects of the virus are socially stratified, says Hipp. In fact, the class structure of our society currently seems to be under a magnifying glass. The urban middle class withdraws into their apartments and lets the systemically relevant but chronically underpaid service proletariat drag boxes of drinks into the home office.

There is another dividing line between the sexes: According to all that is known, it is very likely that the overtime in the household resulting from the shutdown is more likely to be done by women, says Hipp.

[Here you can read what an American psychiatrist advises in a guest post about how to deal with corona fear on a daily basis.]

A little further empirically is an ongoing study by the Institute for Psychology and Ergonomics (IPA) at the Technical University of Berlin. The results are constantly updated on the university's website.

The head of the study, Markus Feufel, is researching how risks in society are perceived and communicated through the media. It could already be said that the Corona crisis, despite its uniqueness, activated a typical social-psychological reaction pattern: A phase of defense and trivialization was followed by a phase of serious discussion and the almost unanimous demand for comprehensive measures, which in turn was now in a further pendulum movement will be questioned.

In fact, everyone at the beginning of the epidemic articulated the sentence, which was soon regretted, that Corona is no worse than the flu. A short time later, the same people called for social isolation. Following an almost widespread support for the social shutdown, critical voices are now increasing again who want to discuss the relationship between the social, economic and psychological damage compared to the medical and structural benefit. “The criticism will intensify,” says Feufel. The debate is only just beginning to differentiate.

According to the TU study, 90 percent of people currently state that they have completely adapted their behavior to the precautionary measures formulated by the RKI. Only three of the 400 people surveyed so far have indicated that they would behave exactly as they did before the pandemic.

In addition, the survey showed that a clear majority assess the risk to the general public to be higher than the individual risk, says Feufel. "It quickly became clear that the medical problems arise primarily from a resource problem and that it is therefore a question of flattening the contagion curve." Half of those surveyed so far believe that the situation is getting worse, 35 percent say it will stay the same and 15 percent say it will get better.

Even if the figures are still very preliminary and the study is designed for a longer period of time, according to Feufel, a tendency can already be seen that the crisis is often seen as an opportunity for long-term socio-economic and perhaps also ecological change. “The fears mix with hopes,” says the psychologist and work researcher. Of course, it is again a question of class whether or not you can gain something from the much-vaunted deceleration. Those who lose their jobs will hardly enjoy the now lower pace of public life. And for nurses and supermarket cashiers nothing has slowed down anyway - on the contrary.

The fact that the voices are getting louder calling for research into the social side effects of the corona pandemic is also shown by a joint appeal by the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) with the Evidence-Based Medicine Network and the Academy for Ethics in Medicine. The scientists involved explain that it must be clarified as quickly as possible whether the measures to contain the Sars-CoV-2 pandemic, such as school closings or contact bans, are showing the desired effectiveness.

In a second step, one has to find out whether the expected health, social and economic consequences are justified or not.

“We should clarify with particularly high priority whether the measures introduced are sufficiently effective to contain the pandemic in the long term. At the same time we have to investigate what damage they cause, ”says Daniel Strech, the deputy director of the BIH. This requires accompanying medical and social science research.

The researchers at the BIH are calling for a "national task force on Covid-19 evidence" to be set up as quickly as possible. This should clarify which questions need to be answered most urgently and coordinate the accompanying research. Society must be kept informed about the results on an ongoing basis.

The experiences and results of such a task force are not only relevant for the current pandemic, explains bioethicist Strech. "Rather, they enable long-term planning for possible future emergency situations."

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