Lower Working Memory Capacity Linked To Non-Compliance With Social Distancing


The study found that working memory capacity is crucial during the onset of a pandemic when information conflicts.

New research suggests that the decision process used when one decides to comply with social distancing guidelines is linked to working memory and fluid intelligence capacity, according to PsyPost.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America, the study found that in the face of unknown cause of spread, the decision may depend on one’s ability to compare “multiple pieces of potentially conflicting information regarding social distancing in working memory.” The study highlighted the critical role that working memory played in the compliance during the pandemic’s early stages where one might have to prioritize the safety of themselves and others over conveniences like attending gatherings.

The authors call for further research in a “possible cognitive venue for the development of strategies to mitigate” the challenge of social distancing. Weiwei Zhang, an author on the study said, “As a researcher in cognitive psychology, I feel that it is our duty to figure out why some people follow the developing norm of social distancing while others ignore it. Addressing this issue may help mitigate the current public health crisis due to the COVID-19.”

He added, “Realizing this cognitive bottleneck, the bottom line is that we should not rely on people’s habitual following of a norm because social distancing is not yet adequately established in U.S. society. Policy makers should develop strategies to aid people’s decision by making information or debriefing materials succinct, concise, and brief.”

The authors expect that cognitive capabilities will play less of a role as the pandemic progresses and mask-wearing and social distancing become a more normal part of American society.

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Read the study here.


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