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Corona Interviews: Psychologist Martyn Stewart on Panic Behaviour and Confirmation Bias

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My name is Martyn Stewart. I’m a Chartered Psychologist and Consultant here in Qatar from England. And I work with people with their mental well-being how everybody’s behaving is normal. This is expected that everybody would behave like this because we have never dealt with anything like this before so people don’t have any programs they don’t have any mental template to follow.

It’s making everybody feel uncomfortable. And when you feel uncomfortable, you have no strategies to deal with that. Human beings we’re not really the best of being objective. Not really the best looking a situation of thinking. Okay, let’s look at this devoid of emotion devoid of feeling devoid of opinion, but what we are the best at is storytelling. Because that’s how our brains work, They work on stories.

We need to create stories to make sense of information. So right now we’re in another situation, it’s new we’ve got nothing to fall back on to tell us how to behave with this. So the only thing we can do is create a story. And we’re going to create the best story that make the most sense in our own heads. About, how to behave and this is why we were seeing the behavior of millions of stories that we could follow millions.

Millions of ideas that we could believe. But the reality is again because it’s a new situation, People aren’t going to choose the stories, the stories are going to choose them. Based on your own experiences in Psychology, We call it schemers . We all have our own schemes our own templates of thought about how to react to the world how to interpret the information.

Whichever your home country is you’ll probably be checking the news in that country.

So I’m checking the news in England I’m checking Sky News everyday somebody from America will be checking Fox News every day or CNN. So the stories that you’re going to be fed are going to be coming from your own experience. You’re going to be following your own cultural background. So everybody stories are actually going to be impressed on you As opposed to you looking at things objectively and deciding your own story to follow from them.

And that’s the problem because we don’t think objectively we think very quickly we think very subconsciously and most of our behaviors and thoughts are not something that we’ve considered, you know looking at all the data that’s available in Psychology we call it confirmation bias that you have an idea or belief and then you go out into the world waiting for information to confirm that and then you’ll dismiss all other information that doesn’t confirm it.

So right now the information is Coronavirus is a killer Which is correct because it has killed people but people are looking for information to confirm coronavirus will kill you but we are not actually sure about that because if we look at the statistics potentially about 5%. So, what happens is we dismissed the 95% of people who have either recovered or what just going through the symptoms at the minute and we’re focusing on the 5% which is Coronavirus is a killer regardless of whatever the risk is real, but we’re attempting to confirm that the danger is real for us, but that’s not objective. So what we have to do is we do have to follow the heath advice that’s been given we do have to follow the restrictions that have been given because, what’s happening is everybody is an expert now everybody has read a news report everybody has watched the YouTube video but none of us are experts on this all people are doing is looking to confirm their own biases and the world’s not helping every story is about coronavirus.

So what it’s doing is, is heightening the anxiety in people as well. It’s confirming that biases that is everywhere. So they look on the sports channels talk about coronavirus. They look on the music channel is talk about coronavirus. So it’s creating the Illusion in our minds. That is everywhere. There’s also confirming what we already believe. Now the reality is Yes, coronavirus is a killer and we do need to be ware.

But we kind of just dismiss all of the information, for I’ll give you an example, 5% of people are dying from coronavirus. It’s also suggesting that it’s a specific age range, perhaps over seventies with existing, pre-existing medical condition at the most at risk. That doesn’t mean that they’re the only people who’re at risk, but they’re the most at risk Because if you take something like pancreatic cancer, now when you look at it objectively, 95% of people who get pancreatic cancer died from it only 5% survive, but when you know somebody who’s got pancreatic cancer, what we do is we focus on that 5% who survived, rather than look at the objective that Probably 95% of people with this disease are going to die.

We don’t look about you. You shouldn’t just ignore the objective information just because you don’t like it or just because you’re not prepared for it. And that’s what we’re all doing here with the coronavirus because we’ve never experienced something like this. And we’re not objective, we’re just looking to confirm our own biases and that’s probably where the danger is because that creates the panic in all the people. Everybody psychology is going to be affected because it’s a disruption to your normal patterns Humans are habitual by Nature.

We form habits to make our life easier. Now, this is not making my life easier. It’s making it uncomfortable, So most people when they experience discomfort, the first thing they want to do is just get back to what made them comfortable but they’re not able to do that. The government to telling to stay in the house.

They’re telling you to constantly wash hands, something as simple as constantly washing your hands or even that’s not difficult thing, but it actually is a difficult thing because it is not part of your routine it’s not part of your habitual behavior so, you have to be conscious about that. And so with children, some children aren’t even going to be aware of it because children don’t think as consciously as we do especially young children so, they’re not going to be aware of it.

So as long as parents are not panicking, thinking “Oh my gosh, they touched this, they did that”, because that is going to knock the child out their normal patterns. Why is mom so anxious? Why is dad so anxious? They’re not going to be as conscience of the information as we are. They’re not reading the news constantly. So they were playing yesterday, don’trestrict them from playing today just because we’ve been told, obviously take precautions but still, allow them to play, allow them to be creative, they can read books.

They can listen to stories. They can create stories. Give them a book, Let them come over and start saying that “Okay so today, I don’t want you to read your favorite story” “I want you to write Harry Potter 9, you write a new Harry Potter and then read it to me.” Let them be creative. Especially children under the age of 7, they’re in that creative frame of mind already. So there’s lots of ways we could do.

We don’t need to panic children because we are but we very easily can panic children because we’re not even aware of our own panicking behavior at certain points. So for parents, you put skills in to children as well and they just not aware of it and now is the time for those skills to come out, now is the time for those independent behaviors to come out.

Now is the time for you to take responsibility for looking after yourself now is the time for you to start developing to be creative with these skills because we’ve been all putting these skills into our children, into our students, just that they weren’t aware of it. And now that the discomforts come, now it’s actually going to naturally come out. 95% of our behavior is sub-conscious so if 95% of our behaviors sub-conscious that we’re not even aware of it, it’s automatic and habitual which explains why everybody’s reacting in this way, which is why I say how everybody’s behaving is normal.

That means what? we got 5% of our thinking which is conscious that we can be aware of, that means that we would only be conscious for 3 seconds of every minute. So we have to ask ourselves “if we’re only conscious for 3 seconds of every minute” “How are you going to use that time” and you have to use that time to the benefit of yourself and others and the best thing that you can do is to look after your mental well-being. That’s the starting point, So ask yourself what you are going to do with those 3 seconds.

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