Crowds on the markets, a head of state who must lecture his compatriots: faced with the coronavirus, general confinement is struggling to prevail. Halfway between economics and psychology, research sheds light on these irrational behaviors and how to discourage them.
Too many French take “lightly” containment, estimated this week French President Emmanuel Macron, while his compatriots must stay at home since March 17 to fight against the spread of the coronavirus.
Just before the measures were announced, social networks were already relaying images of crowds in the sun in Parisian parks. Since the confinement, we continue to see videos of overcrowded markets in the French capital.
►►► Also read: for Macron, it will “probably” extend the confinement period
Elsewhere in Europe, German authorities are reluctant to move to forced confinement, while many Germans, often young, ignore official calls to stay at home.
Even Italy, the first European country to have imposed strict and widespread measures, is now considering even more restrictive measures.
►►► Also read: the virus has killed more people in Italy than in China
Is the world cut in half, between serious people who shut themselves up for the sake of the common good, and selfish people who think only of their own pleasure?
If they perceive that others are not cooperating, they are no longer cooperating
No, there is a soft stomach of undecided who is generally in the majority in this type of situation, answers Angela Sutan, professor of behavioral economics at the Burgundy School of Business, French school of commerce.
“The problem is that these people are both the most important and the most dangerous”she explains to AFP. “If they perceive that others are not cooperating, they are no longer cooperating“.
These conclusions are based on research in behavioral economics. This discipline, on the border between economics and psychology, seeks in particular to explain why irrational behaviors emerge from a pure economic point of view.
One of his big names, the Austrian Ernst Fehr, conducted a study in the early 2000s which shows, certainly from a small panel of around 40 people, how attitudes are shared.
A quarter of the sample contributes to the public good no matter what. Another quarter think only of themselves. There remains a whole half, the famous “conditional contributors”, who are waiting to see how the majority behaves.
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The refractories to disapprove massively
In this context, social networks have “tends to show too many bad examples, giving the impression that there are only stowaways “, regrets Sutan. “It creates a vicious circle”.
But they can also have a beneficial effect by allowing the dissatisfied to diffuse a vast social disapproval which will push the most selfish to reconsider the costs and the benefits of their attitude.
“They feel like they are making a profit by going to the park because they have done an act of bravery”, details the researcher, while “if you are threatened with disapproval on social media, it becomes very expensive because that’s all we have right now”.
What then is the best tactic for the authorities to generalize respect for containment? Go by force and multiply, as is already the case in France and Italy, thousands of fines for walkers? Or play on the responsibility of the citizens, as Macron did?
A mixture of the two, according to several economists, who deem it particularly beneficial the request made to the French to fill themselves a declaration on honor to justify exceptional trips.
“When you put your signature on a piece of paper, there is a mental reflex which means that people, if they already had a tendency to respect the rules, want to respect the commitment made”, underlines to the AFP the researcher Thierry Aimar, who teaches neuroeconomics at Sciences-Po.
“This signature will create mental mechanisms which will consist in respecting the commitment to avoid a form of cognitive dissonance”, he continues. “By the information economy, in most people who were already following social norms, the brain will strengthen self-discipline. “
But then again, the effect may dissolve in the long run, depending on what each other does.
“If opportunistic behavior develops, the attitude of people who are naturally respectful of injunctions is likely to evolve in the wrong direction”, Aimar concluded, deeming it unfounded anyway to venture into forecasts in the face of such an unprecedented context.