Humans are considered social animals, but new psychological research suggests human connection can be more detrimental than effective in certain situations.
The larger a social group is, the slower humans respond to an emerging crisis.
A study titled Collective communication and behavior in response to uncertain ‘Danger’ in network experiments had 2,480 respondents which researchers split into 108 teams of various sizes. Their task was to decide when they felt they needed to evacuate during a disaster scenario.
Only one person in each group understood the possible consequences that would arrive, while the rest relied on other group members for decision making and gathering of information.
The study states that people connected with each other evacuated less than those who are isolated, even in the presence of an actual disaster.
Communication played a big part as it aided in reducing unnecessary evacuations. However, it also acted as an influence to prevent further action. The person who knew about an impending ‘disaster’ wasn’t enough to convince the team to evacuate.
“In a sense, interpersonal communications may decrease actual security in return for collective reassurance.
“Although the results of laboratory experiments do not translate directly into the real world, the evidence presented here suggests that formal details of interpersonal communications might place humans at systematic risk when facing a collective danger,” the authors said.
“Social networks can function poorly as pathways for inconvenient truths that people would rather ignore,” they note.
“This self-enforcing norm of a sense of safety spontaneously emerged in almost all ‘disaster’ sessions,” the authors add, “even though subjects understood the rules of the game and even though this behavior might seem ‘irrational.’
“Humans have an evolved psychology when it comes to responding to collective threats to feel anxiety and fear in isolation,” the authors wrote, “but modern communication technology may provide dangerous and false reassurance.
“Although social networks excel at providing social support, they may work poorly as information pathways for inconvenient truths, especially when it matters.” said the researchers.
The psychologists say that during a crisis, people are less likely to take action during an emergency if there are others around them.
There are also times when members of a community do not believe that a threat is real, making it hard to prepare when it arrives. Meanwhile, others believe that it is real, but are too hopeless to do anything about it.
The COVID-19 pandemic has proven that convincing large groups of doing something can be very difficult especially when different views exist. This was just an experiment, real-life scenarios can be much worse.