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The two traps we must avoid in managing the Covid crisis

A carte blanche from Jérôme Vermeulen, clinical psychologist and manager of the site www.lepsychologue.be.

We seem to arrive at a critical moment in the management of COVID 19. It is indeed that we have heard a lot in recent days about continuing the effort a little longer, a few more weeks, citing the fact that we might touch. to finally be at the goal. So maybe we will finally reap the results of our efforts. Perhaps…

But maybe not. Because at the same time, we hear that it could be far from won, that a third wave could arrive, or variants resistant to vaccines. This damn critter seems to have more than one trick and more than one variation up its sleeve. If we accept the idea of ​​not selling the bear’s skin before having killed it, we would already have to admit that our bear is clever. And that he is not yet really within range of a gun. And that our rifle obviously poses certain problems: resistance of the population to vaccination, generalized fed up with confinement, IT, logistics and supply problems …

This is where I want to draw attention to two very classic and very powerful decision-making biases. Mistakes that occur on a regular basis, traps that we are highly susceptible to fall into and into which others before us have collectively fallen. As smart as we can be …

Fortunately, and this is the sole objective of my intervention, these traps linked to the functioning of our brain, if they are identified and anticipated, can be better controlled and avoided.

The tunnel effect

The first bias I want to talk about very quickly here is the tunnel effect. The tunnel effect occurs when our brain, particularly in a stressful situation, will focus on a particular parameter of the situation to the (sometimes serious) detriment of other parameters that are nevertheless crucial. He “neglects” them. This does not mean that it does not perceive them, but it integrates them insufficiently in its processing of information.

Certain aspects of the policies currently in place may well allow us to formulate the hypothesis of a major risk of a tunnel effect. We will say that this is a hypothesis coupled with a concern. What is striking, at the very least, is obviously to note that the dials on which we remain primarily focused are those of admissions / hospitalizations / contaminations / deaths by Covid. If we are not caught in a tunnel effect, I would still say that it is high time not to enter it.

The obscure trap or the story of the 2:24 p.m. bus

The more so as another trap, not at all exclusive of the first, and no doubt much more devious, lies in wait: the abstruse trap. I would like to give it a little more space. Let’s explain it with an example.

Imagine you are waiting for the 2:24 pm bus. Who does not arrive. 2:29 pm it is still not there and you start to feel a slight worry. 2:45 p.m. and the 2:24 p.m. bus still hasn’t arrived. The delay is starting to be significant. Things are not going as planned. You begin to consider another solution: make the trip on foot (because after all you have done the calculation and you would have 25 minutes and besides, you say to yourself, if you had left on foot immediately, you would already be there). But now a little voice begins to tell you: after all you’ve been waiting for, it would be silly to start walking now and miss the bus just as it arrives … And here you are, telling yourself that you go wait a little longer, paralyzed by the fear of losing everything you have invested so far. From that moment on, your next (no) decisions will be to add little extra expectations. You are as if frozen in your strategy of waiting, fallen into the abstruse trap. You don’t decide anymore. Or, to put it another way, your decisions are to postpone the decision until a little later.

You will probably tell me that it is valid for the individual but that the group or the team protects. Nay. These phenomena also found their first scientific observations in groups. Abstruse trap and team decisions go hand in hand.

The other small name of the abstruse trap: “Vietnam syndrome”. In reference to the military-political mire of the United States in Vietnam. The less it goes, the more soldiers send to get out of the trick by sensing a possible victory with more troops. With a lot of deaths and a victory that never came. The obscure trap is often detected a posteriori. Too late. Note again that the abstruse trap is not avoided just by looking at the numbers or asking the experts. The abstruse trap is purely psychological. Calling a mobility expert or consulting the bus timetables will not make your bus arrive at 2:24 pm and will not let you know what time it will finally come… Military experts have certainly played a large part in the obscure trap of Vietnam, their maps, their numbers, their strategies, their technologies in hand. Experts are also often focused on the dial that concerns them …

More technically, the abstruse trap is therefore based on the following structural elements which can (must) serve as diagnostic or alarm indicators:

1. have already devoted a lot of effort, time, energy, money, ego in a particular strategy;

2. potentially feeling very close to the goal;

3. without, however, yet achieving the objectives;

4. put resources back into the same strategy;

5. be frozen by the idea (false but very blocking) of losing everything you have invested if you change course;

When to stop

All that being said, the abstruse trap also gives us its key: its rational solution is decisional. It is this question that MUST be rationally asked or at least considered as a lead: when to stop? What limit to set? Indeed, the best way not to wait for the bus from 2:24 p.m. until 11:55 p.m. is to set a limit! “If at 2:50 pm, he is not there, I give up my waiting strategy and I go on foot.”

Like many, I suffer to see our young, our old, our independents lose their lives (psychological, economic, family, student, social …) at the front of this medical war in what begins to look like a bog. And I can also understand these measures extended again today for the time of … But what is to be expected if the victory is not there, let’s say … in April? Or in June? Or in October? What if there were to be up to five waves? Perhaps there is also no reasonable alternative to the current strategy? It’s possible. But is it so sure and unequivocal? Isn’t this certainty rather the result of an abstruse trap and a tunnel effect? In any case, all the conditions are met.

I hope, of course, above all, to be wrong. See my (technical) assumptions and (emotional) worries turn out to be false and that victory is definitely here, within reach of the vaccine, in a few weeks … just a little effort …

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