The psychology of public interactions in the age of social distancing

Posted at 9:20 AM, May 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-19 09:20:40-04

NEW YORK — With Memorial Day weekend a few days away and warm weather here to stay, more people are venturing outside and not everyone will be practicing social distancing despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Psychologist Dr. Jeff Gardere spoke with PIX11’s Betty Nguyen about the psychology influencing people’s responses to social distancing rules.

“I think part of it, people are having some cabin fever,” Gardere said.

Wearing a mask also limits a person’s ability to read social cues from others in public settings, which can sometimes lead to unintended hostile interactions.

“Missing those cues, it only leaves to the imagination what we believe may be going on,” Gardere said. “So if we’re having some stress, anxiety, anger then we’re going to project that onto someone else, who may be legitimately feeling some of the same things too. So we’re losing something between the interaction between the two people.”

When it comes to asking someone to wear a mask or keep a social distance, Gardere said it’s best to live by the phrase, “just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”

“We need to be as kind as we can be, understanding that people are really stressed out,” he said. “But more than anything, we need to demonstrate those behaviors ourselves and therefore we serve as a role model for other people who may not be as socially responsible.”

If someone becomes aggressive when they're asked to follow social distancing rules, Gardere said it’s important to take a step back, avoid bullying behavior or escalating tensions and, if necessary, leave and alert a person of authority or law enforcement.