Why should we stick to social rules

Mask refusers and lateral thinkers : Why do some people not adhere to the corona rules? One answer is: reactance

Berlin - On the way home, on a Thursday evening, I have a déjà vu: Two young people without a mask get on the U6 to Alt-Mariendorf with me and take the train very calmly. Before she drives off, an older man speaks to the two of them, points to his mouth and nose protection - and asks for hers. The youngsters, completely beside themselves, jump up, riot loudly, run out again - and get into the compartment behind us. Still without a mask. It is a déjà vu because I read this scene - in different versions - so often in the media that I feel like I experience it anew every week.

A small piece of fabric, which researchers say is essential in the fight against the coronavirus, is experienced by some people as a harassment and is deliberately ignored. Many think that the mask restricts their personal rights. At demos, “lateral thinkers” rebel against Corona rules of conduct, they criticize the political measures to combat the pandemic and downplay health risks, and what's more: Some see Covid-19 as an invention of secret societies and dark powers.

How is my environment behaving?

How is it that simple rules that have been scientifically proven are sometimes so vigorously questioned? “People have a very deep need for autonomy. They want to be in control of their life and everything that happens in it, ”explains social psychologist Marlene Altenmüller from the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich. If generally applicable rules in the Corona crisis are perceived as unjust and disproportionate and someone gets the feeling that they are being deprived of self-determination, internal resistance can arise - and the urge not to adhere to the rules or to act defiantly and demonstratively against them. In psychology, this effect is called reactance.

“The most important question is whether I understand and accept the rule. And of course, whether I am ready to implement them, ”Altenmüller continues. “Social norms play an important role here: What do the people around me think of these rules and how do they behave?” People who have the feeling that they have little say in their own lives are particularly prone to rebellion. By showing a lot of reactance, they try to regain control.

Young people are prone to rebellion

They sometimes include young people - because they live carefree. “You hear and read in the media that young people tend to have milder courses, and that makes them less anxious. In addition, they believe even more in their own invulnerability. It becomes more difficult to control yourself, ”says the social psychologist.

At demonstrations, however, you also meet many older protesters who revolt against corona rules. The social psychologist explains: “This is where the social environment comes into play. If I am in a bubble where the virus is not taken as serious, it will be transferred to my behavior - and I might also take part in such a demo with my family or friends. "

How can you get to corona rebels? “It all depends on how firmly established the convictions are,” says Altenmüller. "If you want to try to change their behavior, you are on the safe side with positive emotions." That would mean, for example, for scenes like the one with the maskless youth in the U6: "Don't attack, speak in a friendly manner. At the same time, calmly explain why you stick to the rules yourself. This is not an appeal to opposition, but to cooperation, ”said Altenmüller. Anyone who goes into communication should remain empathetic and also listen to what the other person has to say. False information should not go unchallenged, so the advice: "Individuals should try to point it out" - with larger groups one must ask oneself whether one believes in that.

Negative emotions evoke rejection

In general, finger pointing and other negative emotions could backfire quickly. When you scare someone too much, they often assume a passive, helpless demeanor. It looks similar if you have a guilty conscience. An accusation such as “Why did you go to your family despite the contact restrictions?” Does not lead to a rethink, but often to a defensive defiance. "The person may not want to admit to himself if he has behaved wrongly," explains Altenmüller. Instead, the other person could ask about the reason for the visit. Even if you don't come to an agreement in this conversation, you might still be able to initiate a process of reflection among the other person. If you don't force him to take an immediate stance.

“Changing people's attitudes is not an easy thing. If there was a universal remedy for this, we would soon be living in a dictatorship, ”adds Philipp Sischka from the University of Luxembourg. The social scientist researches health campaigns and is also of the opinion that negative emotions hardly achieve success with others. “The mask has become a very polarized topic. In order to start a health campaign, for example, that would be a very difficult initial situation. ”Such campaigns are particularly successful when there is not yet a strong attitude towards the topic. When it comes to the mask, opinions are already solidified.

How do you get thought processes going?

In his opinion, the middle finger campaign of the Berlin Senate Administration, which was stopped in October, went wrong because it triggered strong reactance effects in many. “The purpose of the campaign was to get people to wear mouth and nose protection. But when a message is perceived as too intrusive, there is often psychological resistance because people see their freedom of choice endangered. ”The core message was: Either you change your attitude or you are punished with contempt. “You can't reach anyone with that. In addition, the campaign does not differentiate between people who do not want to wear a mask and those who cannot, ”says Sischka. Finally, there are also groups of people who involuntarily do not wear a mask.

In order to encourage people to wear a mask, thought processes should be set in motion instead, according to the motto: You have the choice - but don't you think the other option would be better? Campaigns should rather draw attention to the positive aspects of hygiene measures: By reducing the number of cases, many measures could be relaxed again more quickly and freedoms regained.

Sense of arbitrariness

The research also shows that political back and forth can trigger reactance effects in the population. The crisis situation in the pandemic is already complicated enough for many population groups, according to the social scientist. If rules are then redefined over and over again in quick succession, this could lead to people losing track of things. He gives an example: “In Berlin there are certain streets and squares with a controlled mask requirement. They don't exist on other streets. This increases the feeling of arbitrariness and can also lead to a negative attitude. ”Many would consider the measures to be too controlling. “Instead, politicians should trust people a little more,” says Sischka. "Most of us put the mask on when we walk past a crowd."

Overall, there is currently great dissatisfaction among the population because many people no longer have planning security, explains social psychologist Marlene Altenmüller. “Many people find that their worries and problems are not taken seriously by politics.” This also applies to cultural workers and restaurateurs who think they have done everything right and are still being punished with ever more stringent requirements. Many could not understand why work should continue in other industries. “Politicians have justifications for why current measures are important and appropriate,” says Altenmüller, “but they are not heard because they are not said clearly enough.” Decision-makers also have to communicate more clearly that they are working on a solution . "Exchange with those affected is very important so that they get the feeling of being part of the decision-making process."

Mask refusers are in the minority

At the end of the day, however, those who refused to rule were not in the majority, stresses Altenmüller. “Above all, they get a lot of attention in the media. That also makes sense, because most of them are interested in them. "

But: the more the focus is placed on this minority, the more popular it is. Because people are strongly oriented towards what others are doing. "If you keep conveying the message that others don't do, some ask: Why am I the only one who sticks to the rules?" Instead, according to surveys, the broad mass of the population stands behind the Corona policy and perceives the restrictions as appropriate or even not strict enough, so Altenmüller: "That is the norm."