People Just Can't Think Straight

We have all seen the hysteria caused by the coronavirus outbreak around the world. Just today, Britain told people who were panic-buying and hoarding food to calm down after shoppers emptied the shelves in many supermarkets in the last few days. The food minister George Eustice has assured that there is more than enough food to supply the population, (manufacturers produced close to 50% more than they usually produced), and still supermarket shelves get emptied at record speed[1].

Similar behavior is happening in the United States. I have seen people make panic purchases from toilet paper to canned food.  Two days ago, in the supermarket, I saw a man with 5 bottles of rubbing alcohol followed by a woman with a similar quantity, (I assume the supermarket just happened to replenish the shelves). The cashier asked why they were buying so much of the product. They answered that they were planning to use it to clean their hands because of the lack of hand sanitizer. The cashier was assertive enough to tell both of them that their behavior leads to scarcity for other people in need of the same product. Furthermore, she wisely said that it will not matter if they have clean hands if other people, unable to use the product to clean themselves, come later and pass the virus to them. “You are in a community” she said. The man quietly responded by leaving 3 of the 5 bottles to be brought back to the shelves however, the woman did not do so. I was amazed to see that she even attempted to grab one of the bottles that the man had just left.

The mentioned behavior reminds me that human beings are, for the most part, uncapable of using facts and reasoning to make the right decisions. Everyone has followed the expansion of the virus around the world since it was identified in China. We have also seen several countries go through a sheltered-in mandate to reduce the propagation of the virus; China, Italy and Spain are examples of it. In all those countries food supply and other services such as electricity, gas and water supply have been sustained with minimal to no problems. Why are we in the United States then panicking to the point of buying without reason after seeing what other countries are going through?

Elizabeth Kolbert in her article “Why Facts don’t change our minds”[2] said that several studies performed by Stanford indicate that people fail to make appropriate revisions in their beliefs even after hard evidence refutes those beliefs. Those studies became famous and have confirmed that people can’t just think straight.  The article indicates that confirmation bias, (the tendency people have to embrace information that supports their beliefs and reject information that contradicts them), leads people to dismiss evidence of new or underappreciated threats. This “myside bias” as they call it, make people hypercritical on the positions of others as well as facts presented to them and it brings them to blindly believe their own beliefs, even irrational ones.

Some managers show a similar behavior. Have you ever had a conversation with someone that did not believe what was going on regardless of facts and evidence presented to them? I have even heard people say, “I do not care about the facts”. Now that gossip and misinformation is higher than ever, maybe because the convenience of electronic communication, managers must discipline themselves to use direct observation, facts and hard evidence to make decisions. Doing so reduces the possibility of dismissing key evidence and allows them to make better decisions, especially in times of crisis as the COVID-19 is bringing upon us.

 

[1] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-britain-shopping/shame-on-you-britain-tells-coronavirus-panic-buyers-idUSKBN2180QT

[2] https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/02/27/why-facts-dont-change-our-minds