COVID-19 and America’s response to it is likely to have profound implications for our families, work lives, relationships, and gender roles for years, say 12 prominent scientists and authors who have analyzed 90 research studies and used their expertise to assess our response to the pandemic and predict their consequences.
The group, which included several UCLA researchers, believes the crisis will have psychological repercussions even among those who are not infected. Their predictions and findings were published in the journal on October 22, 2020 Procedure of the National Academy of Sciences, include:
- Planned pregnancies will decrease in a disease-ridden world, birth rates will decline and many couples will postpone marriages, said senior author and UCLA professor of psychology and communication studies Martie Haselton.
- Single people are less likely to start new relationships. Women who can afford to be alone are likely to be left alone longer, Haselton said.
- With children at home due to the pandemic, women spend more time on care and schooling, less available for work pay, and may rely more on male partners for breadwinners, Haselton said. This will lead us to socially conservative gender norms and potentially a relapse in gender equality.
- Unlike many previous crises, this pandemic does not bring people closer together and, despite a few exceptions, does not lead to an increase in kindness, empathy, or compassion, especially in the US, said lead author Benjamin Seitz, a UCLA psychology doctoral student with expertise in behavioral neuroscience .
- “Our species is not designed to have an accurate understanding of the world for what it really is,” the authors write, and our tribal disposition to groupthink is leading to widespread misinformation. We tend to look for data to support our opinions and we too often distrust health professionals, they say.
“The psychological, social and societal consequences of COVID-19 will last a very long time,” said Haselton. “The longer COVID-19 lasts, the more likely these changes are.”
COVID-19: A Worldwide Social Experiment
If marriage rates drop and people postpone reproduction in a virus-ridden world, the populations of some nations will shrink and drop sharply below “replacement levels,” the authors write. These birth rate reductions, in turn, can have cascading social and economic consequences that affect job opportunities, weigh on countries’ ability to provide a safety net for their aging populations, and potentially lead to global economic contraction.
Studies have shown that even before the pandemic, women were more stressed than men due to family and work obligations. Now they are doing more household chores related to childcare and education. In medicine and other sciences, women scientists publish significantly less research than a year ago, while men are more productive, Haselton said.
She and her co-authors foresee a shift towards social conservatism. A consequence of the pandemic could be lower tolerance for legal abortion and rights for sexual minorities that are inconsistent with traditional gender roles. In addition, at a time of economic inequality, many women will sexualize themselves more in order to compete for desirable men, Haselton said.
People who meet online will often be disappointed when they meet in person. “Does a couple have chemistry? You can’t say that about Zoom, ”said Haselton. In new relationships, people will miss out on cues, especially online, and the disappointing result is often an over-idealization of a potential partner – seeing the person as you want them to be, not as they actually are.
The pandemic has become a global social experiment, say the authors, whose specialisms include psychology, neuroscience, behavioral science, evolutionary biology, medicine, evolutionary social sciences, and economics.
An evolutionary struggle
For the study, the authors used an evolutionary perspective to highlight the strategies the virus has developed against us, the strategies we have to use to fight the virus, and the strategies we need to acquire.
Today man is the product of social and genetic evolution in environments that hardly resemble our world today. These “evolutionary mismatches” are likely responsible for our frequent lack of alarms in response to the pandemic, the scientists write.
Americans in particular value individuality and the ability to challenge authority. “This combination doesn’t work particularly well in a pandemic,” said Seitz. “This virus reveals us and our weaknesses.”
Haselton agreed and called the virus “smart” because it can infect us through contact with people we love and who appear to be healthy. “Our social characteristics, which define much of what it is to be human, make us a prime target for virus exploitation,” she said. “Policies that ask us to isolate and disassociate our families, our work lives, our relationships, and our gender roles have a profound effect.”
All infectious agents, including viruses, are under evolutionary pressure to manipulate the physiology and behavior of their hosts – in this case us – in ways that improve their survival and transmission. SARS-CoV-2What causes COVID-19 could alter human nervous tissue to change our behavior, the authors say. It can suppress feelings of sickness and maybe even increase our social impulses during times of highest transferability, before symptoms appear. People who are infected but do not feel sick are more likely to go about their normal activities and come into contact with others who may infect them.
Disgust is useful and motivates us to avoid people who show clear signs of illness – such as blood, pale skin, lesions, yellow eyes, or a runny nose. However, with COVID-19 infections, this is not what most people see. Family, friends, co-workers, and strangers can look perfectly healthy and be asymptomatic for days without knowing they are infected, according to the authors.
It may not sound like intuitive, but normal brain development requires exposure to various microbes in order to prepare younger animals for a range of pathogenic hazards that they can face in adulthood. However, measures to improve home safety and quarantine have temporarily halted social activities that would otherwise expose millions of teenagers to new microbes. As a result, children and adolescents whose immune systems and brains would be actively affected by microbial exposures during normal times could be adversely affected by this change, the scientists say.
If we understand how SARS-CoV-2 develops and has behavioral and psychological effects on us that improve its transmission, we can better fight it so that it becomes less harmful and less deadly, the authors write.
Reference: “The Pandemic Unveils Human Nature: 10 Evolutionary Insights” by Benjamin M. Seitz, Athena Aktipis, David M. Buss, Joe Alcock, Paul Bloom, Michele Gelfand, Sam Harris, Debra Lieberman, Barbara N. Horowitz, Steven Pinker , David Sloan Wilson and Martie G. Haselton, October 22, 2020 Procedure of the National Academy of Sciences.
DOI: 10.1073 / pnas.2009787117
The study is co-authored by Steven Pinker from Harvard University, bestselling author Sam Harris, Barbara Natterson-Horowitz from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Paul Bloom von Yale University, Athena Aktipis from Arizona State University, David Buss from the University of Texas, Joe Alcock from the University of New Mexico, Michele Gelfand from the University of Maryland and David Sloan Wilson from the State University of New York at Binghamton.