Publish date 11-06-2021
Over the past year, the international scientific community has produced a myriad of research articles aimed at measuring the impact of Covid-19 on different aspects of people's lives. One published in Scientific Reports is of particular interest. The authors examine how some negative personal shocks attributable to Covid-19 have had repercussions on cognitive abilities (making decisions by thinking carefully rather than "gut") and personality traits (attitudes towards risk, time and social interactions).
The methodology of the authors is based on two rounds of interviews one week apart, administered to the same sample, i.e. about 1,500 people per country, for three countries (Italy, Spain and England) starting from 24 April 2020. In the first and second interviews, information was collected about exposure to negative events: negative change in salary during the week before the interview; shock from stressful events in the past two weeks; health shocks such as visiting a doctor, trying to get tested or calling the health service for Covid-19, or experiencing severe stress, anxiety and depression in the past week.
In the second interview, the cognitive performance of the respondents and a series of personal preferences, i.e. preferences with respect to time (e.g. impatience) and risk, altruism, trust and reciprocity, were measured to assess whether these dimensions differ or not in those affected. from negative shocks compared to unaffected people.
The results show that, regardless of the type of shock, negative events related to the Covid-19 experience lead to a worsening in cognitive thinking ability, greater risk aversion and a greater propensity to punish those who behave in a socially unacceptable way. "(negative reciprocity).
Since these results are based on experiences lived shortly before the interviews, we do not know if these negative effects are long-lasting or only temporary, that is, decreasing over time. The fact is that these results rather reflect the anecdotal reality we experienced during the first wave of the virus. I am thinking of excessively punitive behavior towards people who violated (actually or presumably) government regulations; I am thinking of the decisions taken in that period mostly "gut" than mental (compulsive online shopping?) and the high propensity to avoid risks, first of all health care, especially in the first phase of the pandemic, when everything still presented itself as a frightening novelty.
Will we come out better? If the negative effects of Covid-19 highlighted by the study were lasting over time, probably in the face of a high propensity to punish anti-social behaviors, we could expect, on the one hand, a reduction in the same in the long term, with a consequent increase in effectiveness of institutional actions as well as the protection of the public good, together with a reduction in the crime rate (especially for petty crimes). High risk aversion and propensity to make poorly thought-out decisions, on the other hand, could however limit farsighted investments by families, with negative consequences on daily economic management, such as the negative spiral of compulsive purchase of non-durable goods, poor saving capacity and excessive indebtedness.
From this point of view, we just have to hope that the estimated effects are only temporary.
NP March 2021