Why Won’t People Stop Going Outside, Even During a Literal Pandemic


Mar 16, 2020


Image Credit: Tripoclan

You know what they say — no better time to go outside and grab a drink in a crowded bar full of like-minded revelers exactly when a communicable virus with no cure has caused a worldwide pandemic. In a rapid turn of events, as the coronavirus disease eats its way through China, Italy, Iran, Spain, and more, with no sign of slowing down, people on my Instagram stories went shopping, partying, brunching, gymming, and more. What did I do? I spent the weekend attempting to understand how human beings as a race managed to survive for centuries, especially when this is our demonstrated understanding of social distancing.

Honestly, though. We’re all extremely petty that we cannot step outside. When our daily routines don’t involve commute and work, our brains immediately want to make plans that involve interacting with each other, or visiting new places, and even worse, travel. All this, even though a pandemic is casually claiming lives in the background.

However, there’s a specific psychological explanation for why we choose to do the things that we absolutely shouldn’t be doing. According to reactance theory, our brains react with distress and anxiety when specific behavioral freedoms are curtailed. The brain will try its best to rebel and to restore this behavioral freedom in some way or another. If a particular behavior that we hold dear is policed, we’re likely to get a lot more rebellious and subsequently, do the dumb thing(s) everyone told us not to do.

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However, a reminder: this is a pandemic, not us throwing stones at a sign asking us not to throw stones. Our reactance, though uncontrollable, could have a domino effect that claims lives — especially of the vulnerable.

Avoiding psychological reactance, though tough at first, gets easier each time one does it. To overcome initial resistance, what really helps is to make the positives outweigh the negatives — make staying in become a lot more fun as compared to going out. We’ve spent quite a bit of the past decade putting introversion on a pedestal — it’s now time to perform best at our most fine-tuned skill.

As for extroverts, well, there’s always Facetime.


Written By Aditi Murti

Aditi Murti is a culture writer at The Swaddle. Previously, she worked as a freelance journalist focused on gender and cities. Find her on social media @aditimurti.


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