Coronavirus: Psychological fatigue could fuel trend of rule-breaking, say experts

Reports of cases on the rise may seem distant, lulling people into thinking this could be happening elsewhere.
Reports of cases on the rise may seem distant, lulling people into thinking this could be happening elsewhere.ST PHOTO: SHINTARO TAY

As the pandemic draws out, psychological fatigue is setting in, resulting in more people flouting rules such as social distancing - a behavioural trend that encourages others to follow suit, said local experts.

Associate Professor Leong Chan-Hoong, a psychologist at the Singapore University of Social Sciences' Centre for Applied Research, said the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on people's behaviour can be attributed to two main schools of thought.

The first group tends to believe preventative measures like the circuit breaker are key in mitigating the spread of the disease, while the second group is more sceptical, especially as the strategies result in economic fallout, he added.

The second group "tends to follow these rules as they are legally binding, without internalising the norms behind them. So, when psychological fatigue begins to set in, they start to flout the rules".

"Therefore, for rules which are harder to enforce like social distancing, people realise that they are unlikely to get caught and have less impetus to comply," he said.

And over time, those in the middle of the attitude spectrum may feel they are immune to the virus, and begin to follow those who flout the rules, said Prof Leong.

National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser also noted that at beaches and malls where almost everyone is not practising safe distancing, this could become an informal norm. "In fact, a person who does so may feel like a deviant, (and the) odd one out."

He attributed the general sense of complacency among the public to the fact that "only 1 per cent of the population has been infected, and of these, the majority are from foreign worker dormitories".

In addition, most people feel that everyone is all right, so life can go on normally. Reports of cases on the rise may seem distant, lulling them into thinking this could be happening elsewhere, he added.

Some people may also be selectively hearing only information that seems favourable to them.

Professor Paulin Straughan, a sociologist at the Singapore Management University, said the green light given for local tourism packages may mean that Singaporeans fail to heed the accompanying cautionary alerts.

 
 
 
 

She said: "While it is impossible for everything to be placed at a standstill for an indefinite period of time, allowing more activities to resume may mean that people tend to focus on the green light given by the Government, momentarily forgetting that Singapore is still in fact in amber mode."

"This underlines the importance on the part of enforcement officers to remind the public to continue taking precautions like adhering to safe distancing measures," she added.

Ms Sylvia Chua, 55, who used to have staycations twice a year with her brother's family and mother, is reluctant to book a local hotel this year, although the Singapore Tourism Board has been encouraging staycations.

"The rest of the world is seeing second and third waves of Covid-19. The situation is still not stable," said the music teacher.

The Straits Times learnt that those up to 30 years old are more comfortable going out, but prefer outdoor venues and shorter outings.

Ms Wendy Neo, 24, has been skipping the malls for cycling and hiking instead.

"Aside from outdoor activities, we also go to each other's homes a lot more, which is safer and more conducive for catching up, unlike crowded areas," said the video editor.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2020, with the headline 'Psychological fatigue could fuel trend of rule-breaking: Experts'. Print Edition | Subscribe