Daily COVID-19 Update: March 27, 2020

Dear Bereans,

This is the update for Friday, March 27, 2020.

“Thy Chimes Will Ring for Me Each Day”

Following the urging of Governor Beshear, the Phelps Stokes Chapel chimes will ring at 10:00 am each day.  Many thanks to Dr. Javier Clavere for dealing with the necessary programming.

An announcement from the Berea College Forest

In response to large gatherings that have been occurring at popular hiking and outdoor activity sites, Governor Beshear has urged the closure of all such venues to the public.  The Red River Gorge is said to be closing as are most of our state parks and many outdoor city areas, as well.  The Administrative Committee has reluctantly made the decision to close temporarily the Indian Fort area and the College Forest more generally to hiking and other outdoor recreational activities.  Effective this evening at dusk, parking areas will be barricaded.  We have also had to close our outdoor basketball court.

An announcement from the Help Desk

Information Systems and Services was recently notified of several occurrences that have taken place at other institutions.  These occurrences involved college faculty/staff sharing their Zoom meeting information on social media platforms. By doing so, members of the public, who are not associated with those institutes gained access to private Zoom meetings.  Sharing your Zoom meeting information via social media is a major security risk.  Please treat all video conferencing information that you share with your colleagues and students as sensitive information.  You should only be sharing this information through email or Moodle.

To create an added layer of protection for your meetings (PDF), you can password protect a meeting, enable the waiting room, and/or lock meetings.

There is also a report in Inside Higher Ed this morning about Zoom classes being “ZoomBombed” with racist, misogynistic and vulgar language; another reason to be careful about security.

An announcement from the Campus Christian Center

For daily encouragement and spiritual support, the CCC invites you to follow the Campus Christian Center on Facebook.  We may not be together physically (and that is hard) but we can be together in mind and heart.  As one way of keeping us together, each day the Campus Christian Center staff will offer some words of inspiration and encouragement for our community. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings we will post a prayer or blessing.  Each Tuesday, we invite you to join us for a short chapel meditation via YouTube.  And, on Thursdays, check out our Interfaith Moment. 

A picture from the President’s House

Governor Beshear has also urged that we light our buildings and dwellings green at night to honor Kentuckians who have lost their lives due to the pandemic and to show concern and empathy for their suffering and the grief of their families and friends.  (Thanks to the FM staff for their assistance with this!)

A Consumer Behavior Perspective on the COVID-19 Virus

Ian Norris, Associate Professor of Marketing and Chair of Psychology

As a social psychologist that teaches marketing, I neither want to speak for the business or psychology departments broadly, so I have chosen to focus narrowly on my own academic niche.

One of the best-known findings in the interdisciplinary field of behavioral economics is that our judgments are biased. We are not purely rational economic actors that seek to maximize utility–at least in any objectively defined way–our biases shape and bend our decisions in ways that are protective, self-serving, and, under extreme circumstances, may even make us worse off in the long-run.

That is not to say they are irrational per se–they may follow a perfect logic from the right perspective. Sometimes we call this ecological rationality. Take the toilet-paper shortage and the reports of food hoarding. From a purely rational perspective, this a classic social dilemma that can be modeled with game theory. If everyone takes just their share, there is enough for all of us, but if some take more than their share, we are all worse off. In evolutionary terms, there is an inherent trade-off between the self-interest of the individual and the group, and good market structures are designed to minimize that tradeoff. But the most fundamental economic problem that we have evolved to solve is that of scarcity. Nothing sends us spiraling down the dark recesses of our reptilian brain more powerfully. There is something primal that scarcity activates in us. Why toilet paper? I could speculate as to the deep psychological significance of this basic necessity–perhaps something symbolic of our animal nature and our mortality. According to Terror Management Theory, the consumption of culture is a psychological defense mechanism against the anxiety of death. The marketing research shows that death reminders can lead to more materialistic values and luxury consumption, for instance. Covid-19 is making it tough right now to deny our mortality in the comforts and distractions of the modern world.

Perhaps the best-known finding is that our emotions bias our judgments. The Nobel-prize winning psychologists (in Economics) Amos Tversky and Danny Kahneman showed that when we are faced with losses, we might make riskier decisions than when faced with gains. Perhaps this is way some people–to great harm–have experimented with treating Covid-19 with as-yet medically unproven drugs. Losses are psychologically more painful than equivalent gains are pleasant, so we will take more drastic measures to eliminate them. This fear of loss has surely motivated a great deal of the sell-off in the stock market, in ways, as my colleague Nancy Sowers noted, that might harm people more in the long-run. The good news is that loss and gain are largely a matter of framing. Tversky and Kahneman’s own work shows that simply rephrasing gains as losses (e.g., 400 out of 600 lives saved vs. 200 out of 600 lives lost) can lead people to recommend riskier treatments for disease. Our judgments might not always be rational, but as Dan Ariely says, they are predictably irrational. It is this deep insight into human judgment that gives our leaders–and marketers, and anyone who controls a message–great power over human behavior.

Take precautions, hydrate, maintain appropriate social distancing!

Lyle Roelofs, President