Psychologist explains why some Calgarians may question masking laws and health experts
Judi Malone, CEO of the Psychologists' Association of Alberta, says it's about fear
At a rally Sunday at Prince's Island Park in Calgary, people were protesting mandatory masking, and a psychologist says mixed messaging from government can lead to this type of behaviour.
The conversation around mixed messaging started when Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, discussed herd immunity during a press conference on Tuesday.
Herd immunity is when a large enough percentage of the public develops resistance to an illness to virtually halt its spread. It has been touted in some circles, including by a top adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump, as a possible solution to the pandemic.
However, Hinshaw says waiting for the public to develop "herd immunity" to COVID-19 is not a practical strategy to fight the pandemic, it would put many lives at risk and possibly overload the health-care system.
This point of view differs from the opinion expressed by Alberta's premier, Jason Kenney, who said in May that the virus will pose a threat until there is an effective wide spread treatment, a vaccine or herd immunity.
Judi Malone, CEO of the Psychologists Association of Alberta, spoke to Rob Brown on CBC Calgary News about mixed messaging and the impact it can have on the population.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: How do you explain the phenomenon of people turning their backs to science? Like refusing masks?
A: I think sometimes we get really overloaded. We know as humans we can handle stress but only so much, and there has been so many ongoing stressors that we actually lose a sense of control. Humans like to have a sense control, that's how we process better. So then to create an idea or to have something you want to cling on to, that may not be the norm, will make you have much more sense of control in a situation that's not very much in our control.
Q: So people are looking for something they can control so they don't have to live in a state of fear?
A: You captioned that really well. Easy solutions, that's what we like, that's what's easier for us to handle, especially when we're stressed out. Small decisions we make pretty well. But big decisions, when they start to get really complicated, we get a little overwhelmed or overloaded and we look for the easiest solution to that.
Q: Is mixed messaging harmful?
A: Well, what adds to our stress is when we get inconsistent messaging, unfortunately, but even our leaders aren't experts and our leaders don't know how to lead us through this. It's actually our leader's job to really help us to plan and prepare for the worst, and it's our job to expect the best. So inconsistent messaging doesn't work well at all because it adds to our stress and that adds to our confusion and it decreases our sense of control or knowing what to expect.
Q: What do you suggest our leaders do at this point to reach those people who don't seem open to this messaging?
A: You know, from a psychological standpoint, I would say really consistent messages that get really clear both on the message and why. Why are we putting things in place? Why are we making suggestions for society?
It's not about infringing on people's freedom. It's about protection and safety. But we're being asked to do too much, to do it very calmly and to do it by and for one another, that's kind of a difficult message to sell. The more clear, the more concise, the more frequently that's said, in small brief messages, the better.
Q: Do you expect some people will never be open to what health experts and government officials say about the pandemic?
A: Well, and it's easy to say some of us are open to messages and some aren't, and we really are all wired differently. But I think the reality is that the more stressed we are, the less receptive we are to messages we don't like or we don't want.
Or the more we feel things are out of control, so people who are facing unemployment and financial distress and relationship distress are going to have a harder time sifting through messages.
And if you add on that, looking at too much social media and too much media that's not doing much fact-checking, you get some really unreliable messages, and that creates even more of a sense of not being in control of the situation.