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This content is taken from the Maudsley Learning & The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust's online course, COVID-19: Psychological Impact, Wellbeing and Mental Health. Join the course to learn more.

Interpersonal dynamics during COVID-19

This step takes a more detailed look at the experience of discrimination that Susan shared.

Interpersonal dynamics: the problem is “over there”

Our minds are economical. They like to automate things where possible. They are also driven by our biological and psychological survival. We don’t want to walk around all the time thinking we are on the brink of disaster – this would obviously be overwhelming. For these reasons, crises like the current pandemic are mentally and emotionally costly and can cause quirks and glitches in our psychological responses.

As we heard earlier regarding fight-or-flight, humans tend to identify and respond to threats. Once threats and dangers are recognised, other quirks can arise. We can fall back on a psychological “rules of thumb” or heuristics. We become vigilant and try to locate the source of the threat, as if it were an approaching predator.

As a result, we often identify threats “over there”, in that particular location, group, or individual. Susan’s experience of discrimination based on her ethnicity demonstrates how this might play out.

This can also be complicated by the current situation where vigilance and avoidance are recommended to prevent infection. Problematically, this can prompt our minds to generalise, such as “the virus originated in China, therefore all East Asian people need to be avoided”, or “coughing is a symptom, therefore all coughers need to be told off”.

These psychological short-cuts intend to keep us safe, but without considering our thoughts and behaviour they can lead to tensions between individuals and between groups, and even racist or discriminatory actions. This is clearly demonstrated in Susan’s unacceptable and unfair experience.

We will hear in the following sections about how these psychological mechanisms can link to existing power imbalances and societal inequalities, leading to significant negative effects.

Meanwhile, feel free to share your thought below on these important and emotive topics. The next step will begin summarising our learning before the next activity.

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This article is from the free online course:

COVID-19: Psychological Impact, Wellbeing and Mental Health

Maudsley Learning