Our Behavior is Sabotaging Us

Image by iqbal nuril anwar from Pixabay

Dr. Todd Ward


We know from research in Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, that experiential avoidance, or avoiding thinking about unpleasant things, is a source of many psychological problems.  It can also be a source of societal problems.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a case in point.  Dr. Sanjay Gupta from CNN discusses in the video below how “human behavior is still sabotaging us” despite having advanced medical technology and treatments.

The death toll is at all time highs.  Our hospitals are full or near capacity.  And Arron Reinert, President of the American Ambulance Association, said “the 911 emergency medical system throughout the United States is at a breaking point.”

The reality is that more people are dying and the sick increasingly have no place to go.  Gupta somewhat rhetorically asked “if the entire country is on fire, what is the escape hatch?”

As behavioral scientists, we know that “education” isn’t enough.  People already know what to do, but they aren’t doing it.  And that’s because of what we know about how language works (see our related article here).  Moreover, others have suggested that humans haven’t evolved to respond to threats in the form of abstract statistics, but rather to experiential threats, such as loved ones being infected or dying (see our related article here).

The United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said earlier this week “Nature always strikes back, and is doing so with gathering force and fury.” COVID-19 is nature striking back, and with a fury no one could have imagined.

The grim reality seems to be that the vaccine is our only hope.  The world can’t afford another lock down, unless governments pay their people to lock down, which seems highly unlikely.

So pretty please, wear a mask, distance, and wash your hands.

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D, LBA is a science writer, social philosopher, behavioral systems analyst, and the President and Founder of bSci21Media, LLC, which aims to connect behavioral science to the world in an engaging, non-academic way.  Dr. Ward received his PhD in behavior analysis from the University of Nevada, Reno under Dr. Ramona Houmanfar.  He has served as a Guest Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, and as an Editorial Board member of Behavior and Social Issues.  His publications follow a theme of behavioral systems analysis, organizational performance, theory & philosophy, and language & cognition.  He has also provided ABA services to children and adults with various developmental disabilities in day centers, in-home, residential, and school settings, and previously served as Faculty Director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Dr. Ward can be reached at [email protected]



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