The Psychology Around Curfews

Clinical psychologist TSHEPISO TESELETSO emphasizes a multi-disciplinary approach to ‘nudging’ people to cooperate around the common cause of fighting the pandemic

It has been reported several times that the numbers of COVID-19 cases in Botswana are on the rise. The more these reports make the headlines, the more Batswana seemingly declare disbelief around these updates. Recently, there was a curfew that was enforced in an instant. The curfew’s intent is to go an extra mile in lessening the potential COVID-19 transmission rates.

The question of preparatory communication as an important facet in helping the human brain adjust to change is as always of esteemed importance. To have effective control on a society, it is important for us to observe luring group conformity as opposed to polarized thinking.

When change comes, it is the nature of a human brain to fight or flee, some freeze. Fighting in this case might be going against the curfew restrictions on fear of instant suffocation or denial of fun during the notoriously exciting and crowded festive mood. Those who fly become backbenchers and disapprove of decisions on the side. Either way, both types of reaction often lead to cases of resentment, rebellion and depression. Those who fly in literal terms or fight end up congested either in non permitted social gatherings, travelling to green zones or crowding in prison cells or at boom gates.

Neuro science, which is a field I am pursuing now, speaks of a concept called the nudge. The nudge approach involves using the knowledge on automatic, default aspects of nature to shape or manipulate people’s choices and behaviour. The United Kingdom and the United States of America governments formed nudge departments around the year 2010. These nudge departments aimed at using the nudge methodology and theory to impact behaviours on a large scale.

The UK later privatized its unit in 2013 and officially called it the behavioural insights team. It is arguable that everyone can use the nudge theory and the influence it possesses, and this is especially so if one is responsible for others such as a leader, a parent, a manager, a teacher, a trainer or a business person. The nudge can also be used in various activities such as health care and change, campaigning, marketing, research, charity and voluntary work.
The nudge could be used to elicit temptation, through the use of short-term easy gains as incentives to break the target group’s inertia. The short-term easy gains are then followed by clarity of long-term risks of unwise short-term, quick gratification decisions.

Furthermore, the nudge can also be used by manipulating the mood of the target group. This first starts with identifying the existing attitudes and feelings of the target group. The mood manipulation intervention should be able to prompt positive feelings and attitudes from the target group. The group should be left feeling enthusiastic, inspired, happy, helped and heard.

It is for this reason that when soliciting and putting across measures such as a curfew, we think hard on how to position it, how to deliver the message to the audience, when and by who. I still believe a multi-disciplinary approach to handling COVID-19, involving other specialists, including strategists, communications experts, psychologists, media/creatives, community representatives, hospitality representatives and other forms of analysts so that all other aspects either not yet understood/discovered can be cared for before destructive eruption, worsening COVID-19 aftermaths.

The wise foresee and prepare for the end before the end begins. Human psychology is a central piece in motivating collaborative, sustainable mass change. We miss it, we miss the point of change or worse risk decelerating change. In the meantime, let us help ourselves see that the curfew is for all of our best interests. Let us do our best to follow the curfew guidelines, wash our hands, wear masks, safe distance and believe that in due time the end to the pandemic will become nearer and closer!