Small funerals, online memorials and grieving from afar: the coronavirus is changing how we care for the dead


Tamara Kohn, University of Melbourne and Hannah Gould, University of Melbourne

The coronavirus is not only affecting the way we live, it’s also dramatically affecting the way we die.

In Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that funerals would be limited to a maximum of ten people to limit the spread of COVID-19. However, the states may have some leeway in permitting an extra one or two.

Funeral directors say they are concerned about the availability of crucial health supplies such as masks, hand sanitiser and body bags.

In Italy, people with COVID-19 reportedly “face death alone”, with palliative care services stretched to the limit, morgues inundated, funeral services suspended, and many dead unburied and uncremated.

In Iran, satellite photography shows trenches being excavated for mass burials.




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As Australia’s coronavirus response moves into a critical period, these examples remind us that how we care for the dead must be part of our pandemic plan.

It is extremely difficult to estimate the total number of people who will die in Australia from COVID-19. Predictions range from 3,000 to 400,000.

Our morgues, crematoria, cemeteries and funeral homes will certainly be stretched to capacity.

Family and loved ones may be facing a very different funeral to the one they envisaged.

And while funeral directors and others in the deathcare industry are changing the way they care for the dead, there are clearly challenges ahead.

Can I kiss my loved one goodbye?

Traditions that include kissing, hugging, and dressing the dead have often been abandoned or significantly modified during pandemics.

For instance, during the Ebola outbreak of 2013-16, governments were forced to separate the dying and dead from their communities, enforce new non-contact methods of burial, and in so doing, transform how people mourned.

In Australia, the latest federal guidelines (updated March 25) advise families not to kiss the deceased. However, they can touch the body if they wash their hands immediately afterwards or use alcohol-based hand sanitiser. In most cases, family members do not need to use gloves.

How are funerals changing?

Travel bans and mandatory self-isolation periods can delay some funerals.
And funerals that pull people from distant places into intimate proximity, often including vulnerable people, present a clear health risk.

For instance, in Spain, more than 60 cases of COVID-19 were traced back to one funeral service.

While Australia has limited the size of funerals, other countries have temporarily banned people from attending them altogether.




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Deb Ganderton, chief executive of Melbourne’s Greater Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust, told us:

Everyone has the right to expect a funeral and burial service that respects their individual beliefs. For the families, friends and loved ones of the deceased, an end of life service can also be an important part of the grieving process and help them cope with their loss.

So we need to be creative to find ways to both protect that right and protect public health.

More funerals and memorials going online

In many countries, including the US, UK and Australia, as funeral services are being scaled back or suspended to limit spread of the coronavirus, online services are flourishing.

Our DeathTech Research Team has been following this move to streamed funeral and memorial services. We’ve also been following interest in using hired robots, which people control from afar, to allow people to attend a funeral who can’t be there in person. We predict more innovative use of technology in coming months.

We may also see more people using digital technology such as social media sites for sharing personal memories of the dead and expressing emotions, particularly if they can’t attend funerals in person.

What’s happening behind the scenes?

The coronavirus is also challenging the deathcare industry – which includes funeral homes, cemeteries, morgues and crematoria – for a number of reasons.

International guidelines for funeral directors say that after death, the human body does not generally create a serious health hazard for COVID-19. NSW guidelines say funeral directors and people working in mortuaries are unlikely to contract COVID-19 from deceased people infected with the virus.

However, both sets of guidelines do set out detailed infection control procedures.

Adrian Barrett, senior vice-president of the Australian Funeral Directors Association, told us:

There’s a lot of inconsistency in advice about death and funerals between different states and federal government […] Recommendations around coronavirus can be in conflict. We’d rather have and follow conservative guidelines, to make sure we are doing as much as possible.

Then, there’s the issue of staffing. Although many other sectors can find ways to isolate or temporarily close, cemetery, funeral, and crematoria workers provide an essential service and cannot work from home.

We rarely think about the welfare of those who handle the dead. These workers are too often stereotyped as profiteering in the face of grief, or stigmatised by the taboos surrounding their work. But there is a deep sense of service and care that pervades this professional community.




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For this community, safe working conditions means ensuring the supply of personal protective equipment. However, Adrian of the Australian Funeral Directors Association told us funeral homes across Australia are struggling to source items such as masks and have run into problems with suppliers profiteering by raising prices.

Finally, we need to advertise broadly a public duty of care for those in the deathcare sector. These are the people who safely dispose of bodies and care for people dealing with the loss of loved ones.

Coronavirus has, in such a short time, radically transformed how we live our daily lives as well as urgently reminded us about the fragility of life.The Conversation

Tamara Kohn, Professor of Anthropology, University of Melbourne and Hannah Gould, ARC Research Fellow, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

In the age of coronavirus, only tiny weddings are allowed and the extended family BBQ is out


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Only five people will be able to attend a wedding – the couple, the celebrant and two witnesses – and funerals will be limited to 10 in the latest round of life-changing restrictions to be imposed on Australians to fight the coronavirus’s spread.

Real estate auctions and “open house” inspections will be stopped, and Australians will now be prohibited from leaving the country – with some carve outs such as compasssionate grounds – rather than just strongly advised not to do so.

Scott Morrison, announcing the new crackdowns, also told people to stay home, except when it was absolutely necessary to go out. But they shouldn’t have the extended family around the dinner table or over to a barbecue.




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However parents are still being told it is safe for children to go to school, and on Wednesday Morrison will meet teachers’ union representatives to discuss arrangements to protect staff, especially older teachers more vulnerable to the virus. Schools would need to reopen on the other side of the holidays, he said.

Addressing a news conference after Tuesday night’s federal-state national cabinet, Morrison said the widened list of bans would include food courts in shopping centres, except for takeaways. Outdoor and indoor markets – excluding food markets essential to ensure the food supply across the country – will be dealt with by each state and territory.

A range of personal services, including beauty therapy, tanning, waxing, nail salons and tattoo parlors, will be shut down, as well as spas and massage parlours. This does not extend to physiotherapists and similar allied health services.

Hairdressers and barbers have escaped closure, but with a social distancing limit to the number of people on their premises, and the stipulation a patron can only be there for 30 minutes.

The banned list also includes amusement parks and arcades, play centres (both indoor and outdoor), community and recreation centres, libraries, health clubs, fitness centres, yoga, barre and spin facilities, saunas, and wellness centres. Social sporting events and swimming pools are on the list, as are galleries, libraries and youth centres.

Boot camps may be held outside with no more than 10 people.

Morrison said people should “stay at home unless it is absolutely necessary you go out.

“Going out for the basics, going out for exercise, perhaps with your partner or family members, provided it’s a small group – that’s fine.” As was going out to work, where it was not possible to work from home – but not “participating more broadly in the community”.

Visits to your house “should be kept to a minimum and with very small numbers of guests.

“So that means barbecues of lots of friends, or even family, extended family, coming together to celebrate one-year-old birthday parties and all these sorts of things, we can’t do those things now.

“These will be significant sacrifices, I know.

“Gathering together in that way. even around the large family table in the family home when all the siblings get together and bring the kids, these are not things we can do now. All of these things present risks”.

He said states and territories were considering whether they would make it an offence to organise house parties.




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“Outdoors, do not congregate together in groups.

“If you’re gathering together in a group, say, 10 people, together outside in a group, that’s not OK. We’ve got to move people on.”

Morrison said that “hopefully” a full shutdown of the retail sector would not be necessary,

“I do note in a lot of the commentary … there seems to be a great wish to go to that point. Well, be careful what you wish for on something like that. … Because that would need to be sustained for a very long time. And that could have a very significant and even more onerous impact on life in Australia.

“We should seek to try to avoid that where it is possible. But if it is necessary for health reasons, ultimately, those decisions will be taken at the time”.

Asked why an outside boot camp of ten people was allowed, Morrison said “that is a business, that is someone’s livelihood and you’re saying that I should turn their livelihood off. I’m not going to do that lightly. And if it is not believed to be necessary based on the medical expert advice.

“I am not going to be cavalier about people’s jobs and their businesses. Where possible the national cabinet together is going to try and keep Australia functioning in a way that continues to support jobs and activity in our economy which is not going to compromise the health advice that we’re receiving.

“And so no, I don’t think we should rush to that sort of [shutdown] scenario. I think you could rush to failure in that sort of scenario.

“You could rush to causing great and unnecessary harm because understand this, this country is not dealing with one crisis, we’re dealing with two crises. We are dealing with a health crisis that has caused an economic crisis.

“I am very concerned about the economic crisis that could also take a great toll on people’s lives, not just their livelihoods. The stresses that that will put on families. The things that can happen when families are under stress.

“I am as concerned about those outcomes as I am about the health outcomes of managing the outbreak of the coronavirus and it is a delicate task for the national cabinet to balance those two.

“Lives are at risk in both cases. And so the national cabinet won’t just rush on the sense of an opinion of inevitability. We will calmly consider the medical advice that is put to us and weigh those things up and make sensible decisions as leaders. I will not be cavalier about it and neither will other premiers and chief ministers.”

He apologised for the systems failure that prevented people accessing Centrelink, prompting huge queues with many people who had lost jobs visibly upset.

“We are deeply sorry”, he said. “We have gone from 6,000 [online traffic] to 50,000 to 150,000,” all in the matter of a day.

He appealed to people “even in these most difficult of circumstances, to be patient. Everyone is doing their best. What we are dealing with is unprecedented. No system is built to deal with the circumstance and events we are now facing as a nation.”.




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The Chief Medical Officer, Brendan Murphy, said the steep growth in the number of cases – the tally is now passed 2000 – was “very concerning”.

Nine reported advice from a group of experts from the Group of Eight universities commissioned by the federal government.

The panel recommended “Australia without delay implements national stronger social distancing measures, more extensive banning of mass gatherings, school closure or class dismissal”.

The group, in advice presented on March 22, also urged “much-enhanced” testing without delay.

It said: “Countries with significant COVID-19 infections have eventually been forced into strong public health measures in a reactive manner. It became unavoidable from a public health perspective.

“The only difference is at what point these measures are implemented, whether proactive or reactive, and how large the resulting epidemic will be.”

“Proactive measures will result in a smaller epidemic and less stress on the health system. Reactive measures (such as in Italy) may result in a greater burden of morbidity and mortality and delay in reaching the point of recovery.‘

The “dominant” position in the group was for “a comprehensive, simultaneous ban across Australia”, but the other view among its participants was for a “more proportionate response”.

With the government going down the latter path, Morrison and Murphy were noticeably uncomfortable when questioned about the advice.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott, who as health minister in 2004 drove preparations for a possible bird flu pandemic, called for a total shutdown.

“We need to have a very, very complete shutdown now to do everything we humanly can to prevent the spread of the disease,” he told 2GB.

“You can only put the economy into a coma for so long, it can’t be indefinite,” he said.

“But the more complete it is now the more likely it is to be short-lived.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Protest has helped define the first two decades of the 21st century – here’s what’s next


Feyzi Ismail, SOAS, University of London

The first two decades of the 21st century saw the return of mass movements to streets around the world. Partly a product of sinking confidence in mainstream politics, mass mobilisation has had a huge impact on both official politics and wider society, and protest has become the form of political expression to which millions of people turn.

2019 has ended with protests on a global scale, most notably in Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa, Hong Kong and across India, which has recently flared up against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Citizenship Amendment Act. In some cases protests are explicitly against neoliberal reforms, or against legal changes that threaten civil liberties. In others they are against inaction over the climate crisis, now driven by a generation of young people new to politics in dozens of countries.

As we end a turbulent two decades of protest – the subject of much of my own teaching and ongoing research – what will be the shape of protest in the 2020s?




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What’s changed in the 21st century

Following moments of open class warfare in the late 1960s and early 1970s, battles against the political and economic order became fragmented, trade unions were attacked, the legacy of the anti-colonial struggles was eroded and the history of the period was recast by the establishment to undermine its potency. In the post-Cold War era, a new phase of protest finally began to overcome these defeats.

This revival of protest exploded onto the political scene most visibly in Seattle outside the World Trade Organization summit in 1999. If 1968 was one of the high points of radical struggle in the 20th century, protest in the early 2000s once again began to reflect a general critique of the capitalist system, with solidarity forged across different sections of society.

Protests against the WTO shook Seattle in 1999.
Seattle Municipal Archives, CC BY-SA

The birth of the anti-globalisation movement in Seattle was followed by extraordinary mobilisations outside gatherings of the global economic elite. Alternative spaces were also created for the global justice movement to connect, most notably the World Social Forums (WSFs), starting with Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001. It was here that questions over what position the anti-globalisation movement should take over the Iraq War, for example, were discussed and debated. Though the WSFs provided an important rallying point for a time, they ultimately evaded politics.

The global anti-war movement led to the biggest co-ordinated demonstrations in the history of protest on February 15 2003, in which millions of people demonstrated in over 800 cities, creating a crisis of democracy around the US and UK-led intervention in Iraq.

In the years leading up to and following the banking crisis of 2008, food riots and anti-austerity protests escalated around the world. In parts of the Middle East and North Africa, protests achieved insurrectionary proportions, with the overthrow of one dictator after another. After the Arab Spring was thwarted by counter-revolution, the Occupy movement and then Black Lives Matter gained global attention. While the public, urban square became a central focus for protest, social media became an important – but by no means exclusive – organising tool.

To varying degrees, these movements sharply raised the question of political transformation but didn’t find new ways of institutionalising popular power. The result was that in a number of situations, protest movements fell back on widely distrusted parliamentary processes to try and pursue their political aims. The results of this parliamentary turn have not been impressive.

Crisis of representation

On the one hand, the first two decades of the 21st century have seen soaring inequality, accompanied by debt and the neglect of working people. On the other, there have been poor results from purely parliamentary attempts to challenge it. There is, in other words, a deep crisis of representation.

The inability of modern capitalism to deliver more than survival for many has combined with a general critique of neoliberal capitalism to create a situation in which wider and wider sections of society are being drawn into protest. More than a million people have poured onto the streets of Lebanon since mid-October and protests continue despite a violent crackdown by security forces.

At the same time, people are less and less willing to accept unrepresentative politicians – and this is likely to continue in the future. From Lebanon and Iraq to Chile and Hong Kong, mass mobilisations continue despite resignations and concessions.

In Britain, the Labour Party’s defeat in the recent general election is attributed largely to its failure to accept the 2016 referendum result over EU membership. Decades of loyalty to the Labour Party for many and a socialist leader in Jeremy Corbyn calling for an end to austerity couldn’t cut through to enough of the millions who voted for Brexit.

In France, a general strike in December 2019 over President Emmanuel Macron’s proposed pension reforms has revealed the extent of opposition that people feel towards his government. This comes barely a year after the start of the Yellow Vest movement, in which people have protested against fuel price hikes and the precariousness of their lives.

The tendency towards street protest will be encouraged too by the climate crisis, whose effects mean that the most heavily exploited, including along race and gender lines, have the most to lose. When the protests in Lebanon broke out, they were taking place alongside rampant wildfires.

Thinking strategically

As protesters gain experience, they consciously bring to the fore questions of leadership and organisation. In Lebanon and Iraq there has already been a conscious effort to overcome traditional sectarian divides. Debates are also raging in protest movements from Algeria to Chile about how to fuse economic and political demands in a more strategic manner. The goal is to make political and economic demands inseparable, such that it’s impossible for a government to make political concessions without making economic ones too.




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As the 2020s begin, it’s clear we’re living in an unprecedented moment: a climate emergency and ecological breakdown, a brewing global financial crisis, deepening inequality, trade wars, and growing threats of more imperialist wars and militarisation.

There has also been a resurgence of the far right in many countries, emboldened most visibly by parties and politicians in the US, Brazil, India and many parts of Europe. This resurgence, however, has not gone unchallenged.

The convergence of crisis on these multiple fronts will reach breaking point, creating conditions that will become intolerable for most people. This will galvanise more protest and more polarisation. As governments respond with reforms, such measures on their own will be unlikely to meet the combination of political and economic demands. The question of how to create new vehicles of representation to assert popular control over the economy will keep emerging. The fortunes of popular protest may well depend on whether the collective leadership of the movements can provide answers to it.The Conversation

Feyzi Ismail, Senior Teaching Fellow, SOAS, University of London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Social media create a spectacle society that makes it easier for terrorists to achieve notoriety


Stuart M Bender, Curtin University

The shocking mass-shooting in Christchurch on Friday is notable for using livestreaming video technology to broadcast horrific first-person footage of the shooting on social media.

In the highly disturbing video, the gunman drives to the Masjid Al Noor mosque, walks inside and shoots multiple people before leaving the scene in his car.

The use of social media technology and livestreaming marks the attack as different from many other terrorist incidents. It is a form of violent “performance crime”. That is, the video streaming is a central component of the violence itself, it’s not somehow incidental to the crime, or a disgusting trophy for the perpetrator to re-watch later.

In the past, terrorism functioned according to what has been called the “theatre of terror”, which required the media to report on the spectacle of violence created by the group. Nowadays, it’s much easier for someone to both create the spectacle of horrific violence and distribute it widely by themselves.

In an era of social media, which is driven in large part by spectacle, we all have a role to play in ensuring that terrorists aren’t rewarded for their crimes with our clicks.




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Performance crime is about notoriety

There is a tragic and recent history of performance crime videos that use livestreaming and social media video services as part of their tactics.

In 2017, for example, the sickening murder video of an elderly man in Ohio was uploaded to Facebook, and the torture of a man with disabilities in Chicago was livestreamed. In 2015, the murder of two journalists was simultaneously broadcast on-air, and livestreamed.

American journalist Gideon Lichfield wrote of the 2015 incident, that the killer:

didn’t just want to commit murder – he wanted the reward of attention, for having done it.

Performance crimes can be distinguished from the way traditional terror attacks and propaganda work, such as the hyper-violent videos spread by ISIS in 2014.

Typical propaganda media that feature violence use a dramatic spectacle to raise attention and communicate the group’s message. But the perpetrators of performance crimes often don’t have a clear ideological message to convey.

Steve Stephens, for example, linked his murder of a random elderly victim to retribution for his own failed relationship. He shot the stranger point-blank on video. Vester Flanagan’s appalling murder of two journalists seems to have been motivated by his anger at being fired from the same network.

The Christchurch attack was a brutal, planned mass murder of Muslims in New Zealand, but we don’t yet know whether it was about communicating the ideology of a specific group.

Even though it’s easy to identify explicit references to white supremacist ideas, the document is also strewn with confusing and inexplicable internet meme references and red herrings. These could be regarded as trolling attempts to bait the public into interrogating his claims, and magnifying the attention paid to the perpetrator and his gruesome killings.




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How we should respond

While many questions remain about the attack itself, we need to consider how best to respond to performance crime videos. Since 2012, many academics and journalists have argued that media coverage of mass violence should be limited to prevent the reward of attention from potentially driving further attacks.

That debate has continued following the tragic events in New Zealand. Journalism lecturer Glynn Greensmith argued that our responsibility may well be to limit the distribution of the Christchurch shooting video and manifesto as much as possible.

It seems that, in this case, social media and news platforms have been more mindful about removing the footage, and refusing to rebroadcast it. The video was taken down within 20 minutes by Facebook, which said that in the first 24 hours it removed 1.5 million videos of the attack globally.

Telecommunication service Vodafone moved quickly to block New Zealand users from access to sites that would be likely to distribute the video.

The video is likely to be declared objectionable material, according to New Zealand’s Department of Internal Affairs, which means it is illegal to possess. Many are calling on the public not to share it online.

Simply watching the video can cause trauma

Yet the video still exists, dispersed throughout the internet. It may be removed from official sites, but its online presence is maintained via re-uploads and file-sharing sites. Screenshots of the videos, which frequently appear in news reports, also inherit symbolic and traumatic significance when they serve as visual reminders of the distressing event.

Watching images like these has the potential to provoke vicarious trauma in viewers. Studies since the September 11 attacks suggest that “distant trauma” can be linked to multiple viewings of distressing media images.

While the savage violence of the event is distressing in its own right, this additional potential to traumatise people who simply watch the video is something that also plays into the aims of those committing performance crimes in the name of terror.

Rewarding the spectacle

Platforms like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube are powered by a framework that encourages, rewards and creates performance. People who post cat videos cater to this appetite for entertainment, but so do criminals.

According to British criminologist Majid Yar, the new media environment has created different genres of performance crime. The performances have increased in intensity, and criminality – from so-called “happy slapping” videos circulated among adolescents, to violent sexual assault videos. The recent attack is a terrifying continuation of this trend, which is predicated on a kind of exhibitionism and desire to be identified as the performer of the violence.

Researcher Jane O’Dea, who has studied the role played by the media environment in school shootings, claims that we exist in:

a society of the spectacle that regularly transforms ordinary people into “stars” of reality television or of websites like Facebook or YouTube.

Perpetrators of performance crime are inspired by the attention that will inevitably result from the online archive they create leading up to, and during, the event.




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We all have a role to play

I have previously argued that this media environment seems to produce violent acts that otherwise may not have occurred. Of course, I don’t mean that the perpetrators are not responsible or accountable for their actions. Rather, performance crime represents a different type of activity specific to the technology and social phenomenon of social media – the accidental dark side of livestreaming services.

Would the alleged perpetrator of this terrorist act in Christchurch still have committed it without the capacity to livestream? We don’t know.

But as Majid Yar suggests, rather than concerning ourselves with old arguments about whether media violence can cause criminal behaviour, we should focus on how the techniques and reward systems we use to represent ourselves to online audiences are in fact a central component of these attacks.

We may hope that social media companies will get better at filtering out violent content, but until they do we should reflect on our own behaviour online. As we like and share content of all kinds on social platforms, let’s consider how our activities could contribute to an overall spectacle society that inspires future perpetrator-produced videos of performance crime – and act accordingly.The Conversation

Stuart M Bender, Early Career Research Fellow (Digital aesthetics of violence), Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Conform to the social norm: why people follow what other people do



File 20181123 149332 rgzoch.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Some people just follow the social norm, whether it’s right or not.
Shutterstock/LENAIKA

Campbell Pryor, University of Melbourne and Piers Howe, University of Melbourne

Why do people tend to do what others do, prefer what others prefer, and choose what others choose?

Our study, published today in Nature Human Behaviour, shows that people tend to copy other people’s choices, even when they know that those people did not make their choices freely, and when the decision does not reflect their own actual preferences.

It is well established that people tend to conform to behaviours that are common among other people. These are known as social norms.

Yet our finding that people conform to other’s choices that they know are completely arbitrary cannot be explained by most theories of this social norm effect. As such, it sheds new light on why people conform to social norms.




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Would you do as others do?

Imagine you have witnessed a man rob a bank but then he gives the stolen money to an orphanage. Do you call the police or leave the robber be, so the orphanage can keep the money?

We posed this moral dilemma to 150 participants recruited online in our first experiment. Before they made their choice, we also presented information about how similar participants in a previous experiment had imagined acting during this dilemma.

Half of our participants were told that most other people had imagined reporting the robber. The remaining half were told that most other people had imagined not calling the police.

Crucially, however, we made it clear to our participants that these norms did not reflect people’s preferences. Instead, the norm was said to have occurred due to some faulty code in the experiment that randomly allocated the previous participants to imagining reporting or not reporting the robber.

This made it clear that the norms were arbitrary and did not actually reflect anybody’s preferred choice.

Whom did they follow?

We found that participants followed the social norms of the previous people, even though they knew they were entirely arbitrary and did not reflect anyone’s actual choices.

Simply telling people that many other people had been randomly allocated to imagine reporting the robber increased their tendency to favour reporting the robber.

A series of subsequent experiments, involving 631 new participants recruited online, showed that this result was robust. It held over different participants and different moral dilemmas. It was not caused by our participants not understanding that the norm was entirely arbitrary.

Why would people behave in such a seemingly irrational manner? Our participants knew that the norms were arbitrary, so why would they conform to them?

Is it the right thing to do?

One common explanation for norm conformity is that, if everyone else is choosing to do one thing, it is probably a good thing to do.

The other common explanation is that failing to follow a norm may elicit negative social sanctions, and so we conform to norms in an effort to avoid these negative responses.

Neither of these can explain our finding that people conform to arbitrary norms. Such norms offer no useful information about the value of different options or potential social sanctions.

Instead, our results support an alternative theory, termed self-categorisation theory. The basic idea is that people conform to the norms of certain social groups whenever they have a personal desire to feel like they belong to that group.

Importantly, for self-categorisation theory it does not matter whether a norm reflects people’s preference, as long as the behaviour is simply associated with the group. Thus, our results suggest that self-categorisation may play a role in norm adherence.

The cascade effect

But are we ever really presented with arbitrary norms that offer no rational reason for us to conform to them? If you see a packed restaurant next to an empty one, the packed restaurant must be better, right?

It’s a busy restaurant so it must be good, right?
Shutterstock/EmmepiPhoto

Well, if everyone before you followed the same thought process, it is perfectly possible that an initial arbitrary decision by some early restaurant-goers cascaded into one restaurant being popular and the other remaining empty.

Termed information cascade, this phenomenon emphasises how norms can snowball from potentially irrelevant starting conditions whenever we are influenced by people’s earlier decisions.

Defaults may also lead to social norms that do not reflect people’s preferences but instead are driven by our tendency towards inaction.

For example, registered organ donors remain a minority in Australia, despite most Australians supporting organ donation. This is frequently attributed to our use of an opt-in registration system.

In fact, defaults may lead to norms occurring for reasons that run counter to the decision-maker’s interests, such as a company choosing the cheapest healthcare plan as a default. Our results suggest that people will still tend to follow such norms.

Conform to good behaviour

Increasingly, social norms are being used to encourage pro-social behaviour.

They have been successfully used to encourage healthy eating, increase attendance at doctor appointments, reduce tax evasion, increase towel reuse at hotels, decrease long-term energy use, and increase organ donor registrations.




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The better we can understand why people conform to social norms, the able we will be to design behavioural change interventions to address the problems facing our society.

The fact that the social norm effect works even for arbitrary norms opens up new and exciting avenues to facilitate behavioural change that were not previously possible.The Conversation

Campbell Pryor, PhD Student in Psychology, University of Melbourne and Piers Howe, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Groping, grinding, grabbing: new research on nightclubs finds men do it often but know it’s wrong



File 20181119 27764 qqhos6.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Young Australians use nightclubs as a place to relax and perhaps meet a new sexual partner. Many regard some phyiscal contact during the mating ritual as off limits – but still put up with it.

Alfred Allan, Edith Cowan University; Aimee-Rose Wrightson-Hester, Edith Cowan University, and Maria Allan, Edith Cowan University

We have conducted what we believe to be Australia’s first quantitative research on young people’s behaviour in nightclubs and the findings present a disturbing picture.

The research suggests that behaviour is taking place at these clubs that would be criminal if non-consensual, and totally unacceptable at the very least.

However, the behaviour is somehow tolerated – in some cases almost encouraged. Many young people think they are too conservative, and that the behaviours they witness must be normal and acceptable in a nightclub setting – so they just put up with it.

Men engage in this conduct – such as groping, grabbing, and pinching a person on the buttocks – far more than women. Our research was confined to behaviour between heterosexual men and women. The respondents came from across Australia.

On the relatively rare occasions when women initiate such conduct, respondents of both genders regard this as somewhat more acceptable than when it’s men engaging in the conduct.

A values and accountability-free zone?

On any given weekend, young Australians flock to nightclubs and bars to have a good time and, in many cases, find a sexual partner. For years, nightclubs have been hot spots for sexual behaviour that would be deemed out of order in any other setting.

We hear of women who avoid nightlife settings because they dislike their “grab, grope and grind” culture. We also know these behaviours can potentially cause some people to feel degraded, threatened or distressed .

In our study, we explored the norms of sexual behaviour in nightclubs and bars as experienced by 381 young Australians.

They comprised 342 women and 39 men, all of whom identified as heterosexual. They were aged 18 to 30 and had been to nightclubs in the past six months. We recruited them using social media, given the high level of adoption of these platforms by nightclub-goers. We were able to find only 39 male respondents because it’s very hard to get men to open up on this subject. Statistically, this is less than ideal.

We posed the various scenarios listed below, then reversed the role of male and female for each scenario. The third scenario – grinding – is clearly non-consensual, and so would amount to criminal assault. The other scenarios might well amount to criminal assault if non-consensual.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/iYczl/1/

Both genders are more accepting of these behaviours if the perpetrator is a woman.

This finding is difficult to explain. The explanation is likely to be complex, but several factors probably play a role.

It could be that the rise of feminism and the associated sexual liberation of women might have influenced participants from both genders to be more accepting of these behaviours by women.

Men’s behaviour more likely to cause harm

Or could it be that participants believed this type of behaviour by men could cause more harm to recipients than women would cause. This belief is also echoed in the media and society, where the voices of male survivors of sexual assault by women are dismissed or belittled as the harm caused to them is often perceived to be less than that of a female victim. Women are sexually assaulted by men in far greater numbers than the number of men sexually assaulted by women.

In follow-up questions we posed after the study, several men indicated that the more attractive the woman engaging in the unacceptable behaviour was – attractive as perceived by the respondent making the judgement – the more acceptable the behaviour would be. No woman said anything similar of such behaviour by men.

Other research has previously found that men are welcoming of most sexual behaviour in nightlife settings. In relation to the rare instances of women groping men at nightclubs, men have said women cannot help themselves around a young attractive man and that they, the men, do not see the behaviour as a threat – more as a [self-esteem boost].

People think they must be more prudish than their peers

Participants in our study reported they often observe these four behaviours in nightlife settings. Why do they suppress their personal values in this setting and not in others?

Many young people wrongly think that most other people find the behaviours acceptable. Research shows it’s a common phenomenon for people to wrongly think they are more conservative than their peers. They therefore subjugate their personal values in nightlife settings because they think most other people find the behaviour acceptable.

Another reason is patrons find it difficult to identify whether the behaviour is consensual or not. The continuum of consensual sexual behaviour in nightlife settings extends much further than in most other public settings, such as workplaces or the street – that is, an act that would clearly be assault on the street might conceivably be mutually consented to by two people in a nightclub.

Some people go to nightlife settings to find sexual partners, and flirting and hook-up behaviours often occur. There can also be significant pressure on people, especially men, to find a sexual partner, which can lead to riskier and more aggressive sexual advances.

So what’s the solution?

Nightlife settings serve an important social function as a place where young people relax, socialise, develop their social identities and find sexual partners. Society should allow them that opportunity, but at the same time the nightclub should not necessarily be a place where personal values and integrity are left at the door.

One option is to educate young people about criminal behaviour – if they are willing to listen.
Shutterstock

The lock-out laws in some states are an overreaction by authorities to engineer change in these environments. But how can young people bring the right balance to what happens in nightlife settings?

One possible way forward is to use what we academics call “normative interventions”. Such interventions involve first letting young people know what the majority of them actually think, and that is that “grabbing, groping and grinding” in nightlife settings is wrong. Just because it seems like everyone is doing it, doesn’t make it OK.

The next step is to encourage patrons to speak up when such behaviours occur, whether they are the victim or a bystander. Research in other settings shows it’s possible to develop programs that encourage people who observe such behaviour to intervene, such as confronting the perpetrator or reporting the incident to authorities. In further research currently underway, we are looking more closely at the role of consent in nightclub conduct.The Conversation

Alfred Allan, Professor, Edith Cowan University; Aimee-Rose Wrightson-Hester, PhD Candidate, Edith Cowan University, and Maria Allan, Lecturer in Psychology, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

One in four Australians are lonely, which affects their physical and mental health



File 20181108 74787 97nmyz.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Younger Australians struggle more with loneliness than older generations.
Toa Heftiba

Michelle H Lim, Swinburne University of Technology

One in four Australians are lonely, our new report has found, and it’s not just a problem among older Australians – it affects both genders and almost all age groups.

The Australian Loneliness Report, released today by my colleagues and I at the Australian Psychological Society and Swinburne University, found one in two (50.5%) Australians feel lonely for at least one day in a week, while more than one in four (27.6%) feel lonely for three or more days.

Our results come from a survey of 1,678 Australians from across the nation. We used a comprehensive measure of loneliness to assess how it relates to mental health and physical health outcomes.




Read more:
Politics with Michelle Grattan: Andrew Giles on the growing issue of loneliness


We found nearly 55% of the population feel they lack companionship at least sometime. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Australians who are married or in a de facto relationship are the least lonely, compared to those who are single, separated or divorced.

While Australians are reasonably connected to their friends and families, they don’t have the same relationships with their neighbours. Almost half of Australians (47%) reported not having neighbours to call on for help, which suggests many of us feel disengaged in our neighbourhoods.

Impact on mental and physical health

Lonely Australians, when compared with their less lonely counterparts, reported higher social anxiety and depression, poorer psychological health and quality of life, and fewer meaningful relationships and social interactions.

Loneliness increases a person’s likelihood of experiencing depression by 15.2% and the likelihood of social anxiety increases by 13.1%. Those who are lonelier also report being more socially anxious during social interactions.

This fits with previous research, including a study of more than 1,000 Americans which found lonelier people reported more severe social anxiety, depression, and paranoia when followed up after three months.

Older Australians are less socially anxious than younger folks.
Fabio Neo Amato

Interestingly, Australians over 65 were less lonely, less socially anxious, and less depressed than younger Australians.

This is consistent with previous studies that show older people fare better on particular mental health and well-being indicators.

(Though it’s unclear whether this is the case for adults over 75, as few participants in our study were aged in the late 70s and over).

Younger adults, on the other hand, reported significantly more social anxiety than older Australians.

The evidence outlining the negative effects of loneliness on physical health is also growing. Past research has found loneliness increases the likelihood of an earlier death by 26% and has negative consequences on the health of your heart, your sleep, and levels of inflammation.




Read more:
Loneliness is a health issue, and needs targeted solutions


Our study adds to this body of research, finding people with higher rates of loneliness are more likely to have more headaches, stomach problems, and physical pain. This is not surprising as loneliness is associated with increased inflammatory responses.

What can we do about it?

Researchers are just beginning to understand the detrimental effects of loneliness on our health, social lives and communities but many people – including service providers – are unaware. There are no guidelines or training for service providers.

So, even caring and highly trained staff at emergency departments may trivialise the needs of lonely people presenting repeatedly and direct them to resources that aren’t right.

Increasing awareness, formalised training, and policies are all steps in the right direction to reduce this poor care.

For some people, simple solutions such as joining shared interest groups (such as book clubs) or shared experienced groups (such as bereavement or carers groups) may help alleviate their loneliness.

But for others, there are more barriers to overcome, such as stigma, discrimination, and poverty.

Shared interest groups can help some people feel less alone.
Danielle Cerullo

Many community programs and social services focus on improving well-being and quality of life for lonely people. By tackling loneliness, they may also improve the health of Australians. But without rigorous evaluation of these health outcomes, it’s difficult to determine their impact.

We know predictors of loneliness can include genetics, brain functioning, mental health, physical health, community, work, and social factors. And we know predictors can differ between groups – for example, young versus old.

But we need to better measure and understand these different predictors and how they influence each other over time. Only with Australian data can we predict who is at risk and develop effective solutions.




Read more:
The deadly truth about loneliness


There are some things we can do in the meantime.

We need a campaign to end loneliness for all Australians. Campaigns can raise awareness, reduce stigma, and empower not just the lonely person but also those around them.

Loneliness campaigns have been successfully piloted in the United Kingdom and Denmark. These campaigns don’t just raise awareness of loneliness; they also empower lonely and un-lonely people to change their social behaviours.

A great example of action arising from increased awareness comes from the Royal College of General Practitioners, which developed action plans to assist lonely patients presenting in primary care. The college encouraged GPs to tackle loneliness with more than just medicine; it prompted them to ask what matters to the lonely person rather than what is the matter with the lonely person.

Australia lags behind other countries but loneliness is on the agenda. Multiple Australian organisations have come together after identifying a need to generate Australian-specific data, increase advocacy, and develop an awareness campaign. But only significant, sustained government investment and bipartisan support will ensure this promising work results in better outcomes for lonely Australians.The Conversation

Michelle H Lim, Senior Lecturer and Clinical Psychologist, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Socially mediated terrorism poses devilish dilemma for social responses


Claire Smith, Flinders University; Gary Jackson, Flinders University, and Koji Mizoguchi, Kyushu University

The terrorist attacks in Paris have resonated around the world. In addition to physical violence, Islamic State (IS) is pursuing a strategy of socially mediated terrorism. The symbolic responses of its opponents can be predicted and may inadvertently further its aims.

In the emotion of the moment, we need to act. We need to be cautious, however, of symbolic reactions that divide Muslims and non-Muslims. We need emblems that act against the xenophobia that is a recruiting tool for jihadists.

Reactions from the West should not erode the Muslim leadership that is essential to overturning “Islamic State”. Queen Rania of Jordan points out:

What the extremists want is to divide our world along fault lines of religion and culture, and so a lot of people in the West may have stereotypes against Arabs and Muslims. But really this fight is a fight between the civilised world and a bunch of crazy people who want to take us back to medieval times. Once we see it that way, we realise that this is about all of us coming together to defend our way of life.

Queen Rania’s statement characterises the Paris attacks as part of a wider conflict around cultural values. How are these values playing out symbolically across the globe?

Propaganda seeks predictable responses

IS’s socially mediated propaganda is sophisticated and planned. This supports an argument that the Paris attacks are the beginning of a global campaign. Symbolic materials characterise IS as invincible. However, other evidence may indicate that it is weak.

The IS representation of the Eiffel Tower.
SITE Intelligence Group

The spontaneous celebration on Twitter by IS supporters was predictable. Its representational coverage of the Paris attacks, however, suggests deep planning.

This planning is embedded in professionally designed images. A reworked image depicts the Eiffel Tower as a triumphal arch with the IS flag flying victoriously on top.

The tower is illuminated and points to the heavens and a God-given victory. The inclusion of a road running through the Eiffel Tower provides a sense of speed, change, even progress. In Arabic, the text states, “We are coming, France” and “The state of Khilafa”.

IS is using symbolic representations of the Paris attacks to garner new recruits.

A sophisticated pre-prepared image of an intrepid fighter walking away from a Paris engulfed in flames was quickly distributed. It is inscribed with the word “France under fire” in Arabic and French.

IS had its ‘France under fire’ image ready to post immediately after the attacks.
INSITE on Terrorism

InFAMOUS
IGN Entertainment Games

This image keys into the heroic tropes of online video gaming, such as prototype and inFAMOUS. Chillingly, it is designed to turn virtual warriors into actual warriors.

The five million young Muslims in France are particular targets. Among online recruitment materials are videos calling them to join other young French nationals who are with IS.

Prototype
hifisnap

Support for the victims in Paris and for the democratic values of liberty, equality and fraternity are embedded in the blue, white and red lights movement. These lights shone in major cities in the US, Britain, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, Taiwan and South America. The blue, white and red lights also were displayed in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Malaysia.

However, the light displays were seen in few countries with Muslim majorities overall. Such countries are in an invidious position. Display the lights and you may be characterized as a lackey of the West. Don’t display the lights and appear unsympathetic to the victims.

Facebook blue white and red Paris
author provided/courtesy J. Smith

Support also is embedded in a parallel Facebook function that allows members to activate a tri-colour filter. Adapted from a rainbow filter used to support same-sex marriage, this filter attracts those with liberal sentiments.

The question of whether to use the French flag to show sympathy for the victims is invidious at a personal level. Many people find themselves exploited and condemned to poverty by neoliberal economic models. They are put in a difficult position. They feel sympathy for the victims. However, they are bitter about how they are being treated by “the West”, including France.

Perils of an ‘us and them’ mindset

As the blue, white and red activism plays out around the globe, there is a potential for this to transform into a symbolic manifestation of an “us and them” mentality. Such a division would support xenophobic forces, which steer recruits towards IS.

The global impact of the attacks can be related to the iconic status of Paris. The attacks hold a personal dimension for millions of people who have visited this city. They have a sense of “there but for the grace of God, go I”. This emotion echoes responses to the destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001.

The Japanese and Italian cafes included in the attacks are symbolic targets for their countries. In March 2015, IS spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnan stated that the group would attack “Paris, before Rome”. Rome is a target because of its symbolic role as the centre of Christianity. Japan is a target because of its role in coalition forces. It has already suffered the execution of Japanese hostages early in 2015.

In Japan, the cultural reaction has been relatively low key, as part of a strategy of minimising terrorist attention. The blue, white and red lights solidarity received minimal press coverage. There have been few reports of the Japanese restaurant that was one of the targets. In addition to factual coverage of the attacks, Japanese reports have concentrated on implications for security at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Are there any symbols indicating good news? The Syrian passport found near the body of one of the attackers could be a sign of weakness. It could have been “planted” there – why carry a passport on a suicide mission?

If so, its purpose is to increase European xenophobia and encourage the closing of borders to Syrian refugees. This suggests the mass exodus of Muslim refugees from Syria is hurting IS. The propaganda could be a sign of alarm in IS leadership ranks.

In our responses to the Paris attacks, the grief of the West should not be allowed to overshadow the opprobrium of Muslim countries. Muslims are best placed to challenge the Islamic identity of this self-declared state.

As Queen Rania states, the war against IS must be led by Muslims and Arabs. To ensure success, the international community needs to support, not lead, Muslim efforts.

The Conversation

Claire Smith, Professor of Archaeology, Flinders University; Gary Jackson, Research Associate in Archaeology, Flinders University, and Koji Mizoguchi, Professor of Archaeology, Kyushu University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Introverts and the Internet


The link below is to an article that looks at how the Internet is changing society through the creation of introverts.

For more visit:
http://socialtimes.com/how-social-media-is-creating-a-world-of-introverts_b130856