It is no surprise that every person, every being around the world has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and has presented an opportunity for us to come together as a worldly community in hopes to combat this crisis.
However, despite this notion of keeping society safe, there are outliers in the population that have gone against the COVID-19 mandates and operated as if there was no quarantine in place at all. The compliance could have been considered at a minimal in this selection of individuals. What is even more striking about this, is that the majority of this select group of outliers were from the younger generation. To be more specific, ages 18 to 24. During the ‘hotspot’ of COVID-19 transmission, individuals ages 18 to 24 were causing 14% of the virus’s transmission. This was the highest percentage in comparison to all other age groups. Why did these individuals consistently act out against the mandates that our public health system put in place? What kind of mindset did these individuals have to knowingly go against the safety of others? What made the young adult age bracket so susceptible to quarantine non-compliance? These questions are ones that I wish to dive into a bit further. I want to show the mental barriers that might be affecting young adults and how there might be a conflict within communication efforts and how these individuals are receiving information of quarantine compliance.
One critical element to explaining the mental barriers that young adults might be encountering with quarantine non-compliance would be the theory of groupthink. Groupthink is, from Irving Janis, “a communication process that sometimes develops when members of a group begin thinking similarly, greatly reducing the probability that the group will reach an effective decision” (Janis 1982). This theory presents individuals acting as one cohesive unit and makes their group seem more invincible than they truly are. James Rose conducted a study on this exact mentality and concluded on the three major types of Groupthink that he saw in individuals. The three vary in different facets but all focus on making decisions and actions based on the group:
• Type 1, overestimation of the group (the illusion of invulnerability and belief in group’s inherent morality)
• Type 2, closed-mindedness (collective rationalization and stereotypes of out-groups)
• Type 3, pressure toward uniformity (self-censorship, illusion unanimity, direct pressure on dissenters and self-appointed mind guards) (Rose 2011)
I believe that many young adults are acting alongside this theory, specifically within type 1. This might be a bit of an exaggeration, but videos such as this one show this mentality of invulnerability and acting in a manner that wants nothing but her select group to find enjoyment.
Going beyond the theory, there have been studies that have produced hard data on the very same assertion that I am making. One said the study was from a research group in Switzerland that analyzed youth and young adults and to identify low compliance rates with public health mandates at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. They administered a survey that produced data to explain what mandates were being followed or not followed within certain situations. The study revealed that with every recording of hygiene non-compliance issue was followed by another form of noncompliance such as not covering one’s mouth when sneezing usually meant they also did not wash their hands after using the restroom (Nivette 2020). In addition to this they also the noncompliance connected to respondents that had the characteristic of “antisocial potential” (Nivette 2020). “Antisocial potential” being a low acceptance of moral rules, legal cynicism, and low self-control in general. One interesting aspect of this is they were able to make a clarification and divide on what is making young adults act out in this fashion. They concluded that hygiene and social distancing behaviors are in part driven by different mechanisms (Nivette 2020). What this means is that hygiene noncompliance is committed by a different mechanical reason to social distancing or other quarantine compliance. Hygiene noncompliance was specifically committed due to a lack of information within the individual or their upbringing hindered them from the following compliance. Social distancing and other quarantine noncompliance were committed due to a rebellious/ anti-authoritative mentality where the individual did not want to be told to stay inside.
So, what does this say about information communication? I believe that this separation between groupthink type 1 noncompliance and hygiene noncompliance is where the issue lies. Yes, as the data and statistics show, there is a percentage of young adults that are acting on their own accord in a rebellious persona and might be impossible to change. However, there is an equal number of young adults that simply do not understand or have the resources to follow quarantine mandates. The Committee on Improving the Health, Safety, and Well-Being of Young Adults describes this and the overall public health perspectives and activities that programs use to target the young adult audience. For instance, they concluded that the use of a ‘developmental perspective’ when transmitting information to young adults proved to be the most effective (Bonnie 2015). By this, they mean that socially patterned exposures (such as properly integrated media-based marketing campaigns) during sensitive life stages would shift a young adult to follow compliance. This can be correlated to quarantine compliance and how public health officials are currently addressing young adults. Maybe a greater focus on developmental perspectives would encourage more young adults to buy into quarantine mandates.
As I mentioned earlier, this pandemic has been so unrelenting on everyone across the globe. I do not want this article to seem like I am placing blame on young adults in any way shape or form. I merely want to explain why these tendencies are prevalent within young adults and how health care officials might be able to go forth and properly inform them to make the correct decisions within this time of hardships.