Expert Pitch
Virginia Tech

COVID-19: ‘We all have to think of the big picture,’ says Virginia Tech expert in behavioral science

2-Apr-2020 8:35 AM EDT, by Virginia Tech

What do marshmallows have to do with a pandemic?

More than one might think, according to a Virginia Tech expert in applied behavioral science and the human dynamics of injury prevention.

“We're in a situation right now where we're asked to delay consequences when there are things we all want to do,” said E. Scott Geller, an Alumni Distinguished Professor of psychology. “And we don't know if or when we're going to get the big reward — in this case, not getting sick.”

Geller is referring to the now-infamous Stanford University marshmallow study, which was based on a deceptively complex concept: delayed gratification. In the 1972 study and ones that followed, children were given a choice between one small but immediate reward (a marshmallow), or two small rewards (two marshmallows) if they waited longer. The initial study found that children who were able to wait longer for double the reward tended to have better life outcomes; later studies showed that economic background, in addition to willpower, was a key factor.

Geller highlights that classic experiment as one of the main reasons why the pandemic is causing so much distress and anxiety for so many people.

“When I do what I'm supposed to do right now, such as staying at home, I don't see an immediate consequence or reward,” Geller said. “We're asking people to delay stuff that they'd like to be doing right now — like going out and socializing — in order to achieve something desirable: beating the virus sometime in the future. But no one can tell you when that's going to happen.” 

[More: Find additional Virginia Tech expertise related to COVID-19 here.] 

Aside from the obvious differences between a pandemic and marshmallows, Geller said one key point separates the two scenarios. 

“Those kids were sure to get that second marshmallow if they waited,” Geller said. “We're in a situation right now where we're asked to delay consequences and things we want to do. We don't know if or when we're going to get the reward in this case. We’re experiencing extreme uncertainty and a loss of personal control, and those feelings are so aversive.”

Geller cited another aspect of psychology playing a big role in individual actions now.

“We're working to avoid an aversive consequence, which is especially tough in the first place,” Geller said. “People are much happier when they’re working to succeed, because success-seeking is generally a positive experience. You get the marshmallow now or later. Instead, we’re doing this to avoid something — to avoid ourselves and others getting sick. It's an unhappy failure-avoiding state.”

American culture in particular is also a factor in how people react to limitations imposed upon them, Geller said.

“We've been raised to think ‘nice guys finish last,’ you have to ‘toot your own horn,’ ‘the squeaky wheel gets the grease,’ and so on. We've been raised to be independent, to do things ourselves; but now we're asking for a paradigm shift. We're asking for interdependence: Don't take all the toilet paper for yourself. Think of others.”

Geller continued: “We've been raised to make things happen ourselves, and now we have to work together not just for our own interests, but for the welfare of others. We all have to think of the big picture.”

About Geller 

Scott Geller is an Alumni Distinguished Professor of psychology and Director of the Center for Applied Behavior Systems at Virginia Tech. Throughout five decades of teaching and research at the university, Geller has focused in part on the psychology of safety as well as his global movement, Actively Caring for People. Among other subjects, his work focuses on the development and evaluation of behavior change strategies to improve quality of life on a large scale. See his bio.

Our studio

Finding reliable experts for media interviews is especially important during this difficult time. Virginia Tech's television and radio studios can broadcast live HD audio and video to networks, news outlets, and affiliates interviewing Virginia Tech faculty and staff. The university does not charge for use of its studios. Video is transmitted by LTN Global Communications; Skype, FaceTime, or similar products; or file sharing (Dropbox, Google Drive, We-Transfer, etc.). Radio interviews can be transmitted by ISDN, Comrex, phone, smartphone recording, or file sharing.  




Filters close

Showing results

110 of 5575
Released: 6-May-2021 4:20 PM EDT
How to Win Over Vaccine Skeptics: Live Expert Panel for May 20, 3pm ET
Newswise

How to Win Over Vaccine Skeptics: Live Expert Panel for May 20, 3pm ET

Released: 6-May-2021 2:15 PM EDT
Review of the Emerging Evidence Demonstrating the Efficacy of Ivermectin in the Prophylaxis and Treatment of COVID-19
Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance (FLCCC Alliance)

After the Most Comprehensive Review to Date, a Panel of Leading Medical Experts Conclude that Ivermectin Should be Systematically and Globally Adopted for the Prevention and Treatment of COVID-19

Released: 6-May-2021 2:10 PM EDT
儿童同样面临COVID-19的长期影响
Mayo Clinic

COVID-19感染可能对部分儿童和青少年,以及成人的健康产生长期影响。虽然大多数COVID-19儿童感染者症状轻微或根本没有症状,但对于任何COVID-19感染者而言,即使病情轻微或没有症状,感染也可能产生长期影响。

Newswise: CSUCIVaxClinic4-29-21.JPG
Released: 6-May-2021 2:05 PM EDT
CSU Expands Vaccine Availability with New Partnerships
California State University (CSU) Chancellor's Office

Many CSU campuses now offer even more options for students and employees to get their COVID-19 shots, thanks to unique partnerships with national pharmacies and local hospitals.

Released: 6-May-2021 1:50 PM EDT
الأطفال أيضًا يواجهون آثارًا طويلة المدى لفيروس كورونا المستجد (كوفيد-19)
Mayo Clinic

مدينة روتشستر، ولاية مينيسوتا ― تؤثر الآثار طويلة المدى لعدوى فيروس كورونا المستجد (كوفيد-19) على صحة بعض الأطفال والمراهقين، وكذا البالغين. في حين أن معظم الأطفال المصابين بعدوى فيروس كورونا المستجد (كوفيد-19) يعانون من أعراض خفيفة أو لا تظهر عليهم أي أعراض على الإطلاق، فإن أي شخص أصيب بفيروس كورونا المستجد (كوفيد-19) - حتى لو كان المرض خفيفًا أو لم تظهر عليه أعراض - قد يُصاب بآثار طويلة المدى.

Released: 6-May-2021 1:35 PM EDT
As crianças também enfrentam efeitos de longo prazo da COVID-19
Mayo Clinic

Os efeitos de longo prazo da infecção por COVID-19 estão afetando a saúde de algumas crianças e adolescentes, bem como de adultos. Embora a maioria das crianças com infecção por COVID-19 tenha sintomas leves ou nenhum sintoma, qualquer pessoa que teve COVID-19, mesmo se leve ou sem sintomas, pode ter efeitos de longo prazo.

Newswise: Retired Nurse Returns to the Front Lines
Released: 6-May-2021 1:25 PM EDT
Retired Nurse Returns to the Front Lines
Rush University Medical Center

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Martha Kuhr, RN, came out of retirement to care for some of Rush University Medical Center's most severe COVID-19 patients in the CVICU.

Released: 6-May-2021 12:40 PM EDT
Achieving high COVID-19 vaccine coverage levels by summer can prevent millions of cases
CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy

With around 30 percent of the U.S. population now fully vaccinated, the rate of daily vaccinations has started to slow, raising concerns that greater efforts and investments may be needed to reach higher coverage levels.

Released: 6-May-2021 12:30 PM EDT
Los niños también enfrentan los efectos a largo plazo de la COVID-19
Mayo Clinic

Los efectos a largo plazo de la infección por COVID-19 están repercutiendo en la salud de algunos niños y adolescentes, además de los adultos. Si bien la mayoría de los niños con infección por COVID-19 tienen síntomas leves o no tienen síntomas en absoluto, cualquier persona que haya tenido COVID-19 (incluso si la enfermedad fue leve o no tuvieron síntomas) puede tener efectos a largo plazo.


Showing results

110 of 5575

close
1.29977