Behavioural Fatigue -did we get tired of lockdown and did the Government correctly predict this?

A lot of journalists spend their time tweeting these days and it is perhaps a better insight into their thought process than the edited results on TV.  Here for example is the BBC’s Lewis Goodall.

Now, the first thing that springs to mind reading the thread is “wouldn’t that have been a good thing for a journalist to have asked about in March?” You see, we were about to head into this massive social experiment where a country with no real experience of authoritarian centralised control was about to attempt to seriously curtail the people’s freedoms. So, you would have thought that the Behavioural Science bit of SAGE would have done some research and some modelling on the potential impact on our psychological well-being and on our behaviour.  And, you would have thought that the journalists would have wanted to know about that too wouldn’t you.

It’s not as though members of the public weren’t asking on the social and emotional impact of lockdown either is it? I personally wrote two articles on Faithroots that touched on this.



There is more than one way to die

The first “There’s more than one way to die” argued that we needed to be alert to the social, emotional and spiritual risks of lockdown.  The second warned that if we were in the business of suppressing the virus then other things including social behaviour were being suppressed too and that you could only keep a lid on that pressure cooker for so long.

So, when Goodall finds a source to grandly inform us that there is no such thing as behavioural fatigue, you and me are likely to be surprised. Of course, you woudn’t expect to be major studies of pandemic lockdowns in western cultural contexts because we were going into something new. However, we do know the following:

  • We know what the psychological and behavioural effects of institutionalising someone and removing their liberties (e.g. through prison).
  • We know what the psychological and behavioural effects of isolation and the loss of physical contact and intimacy are.

Now, to the best of my knowledge, just in normal time the effects of those things are known to be extremely negative for individuals without the whole population being subject to a lockdown.

Additionally, whilst none of us have been in the middle of this type of pandemic before, some of us do have experience of what is now being called behavioural science, in my case, as a practioner. My two main vocations, first in industry leading change management projects and now in church life require me to be aware of how people behave in particular contexts and the impact that different environments and scenarios have on groups. Now, whilst I had not used the phrase “behavioural fatigue” before, I can assure you that anyone involved in change management r crisis management will be aware of how people’s emotional reactions and therefore behaviours will change during the process. Practitioners know that there will be a point where they will have to encourage people not to give up and disappear into despair. That’s what leadership is all about.

So Goodall’s claim that the behavioural fatigue syndrome was completely mythical is certainly a surprise. However, that’s not all he says. He claims that whilst we were afraid that people would lose patience with the measures that this has not happened.

Yet, what does he think was involved in people heading off to the beach or breaking lockdown to see their family or rising up in anger to campaign against #BlackLivesMatter? These are the very things that some of us warned about from an early point. Talk to pretty much anyone and you will hear various stories of a breached lockdown.  Another sign that people are struggling is that they are becoming more and more fatigued by online social media. Churches for example are detecting a drop in zoom attendance.   Phone conversations frequently turn to the frustration and the loneliness people are experiencing.

In that context, it is worth noting that there are other negative emotional and behavioural effects now being seen. For every person desperate to get out of lockdown, there is at least one other who has becoming increasingly fearful of the world around them.

We should not understimate the consequences of the pandemic lockdown. Whilst it may, or may not have been necessary, it is concerning that some people have a blind spot to the negative consequences of it.

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