Ms. Betsch, after two years of corona and corona research, are you tired of the pandemic?
I think it’s completely normal for everyone to be exhausted after two years of continuous exertion. We see it in the data and we experience it ourselves. The question is how do we now manage to get to what will hopefully be a somewhat more relaxed summer and prepare well for autumn so that we don’t end up in the same mess again.
But isn’t it difficult to remain vigilant when the signal comes from politics: We have the omicron wave under control?
In fact, we see in our survey that people’s voluntary protective behavior has not increased further in recent times, despite the Omicron wave. But people are still in a deliberative attitude and continue to stick to the rules quite consistently – which are relatively strict compared to other countries.
What are the consequences of this latent state of alarm?
We can see in our data that the psychological burden on people has not increased recently, even though the number of corona cases has increased enormously. Concerns about health and the healthcare system have also decreased. At the same time, the proportion of bitter people has increased, especially among the younger generation. More recently, more people have sought psychological support. There is also a constant concern that the pandemic will change society for the worse. So the data shows that the past two years have not left us untouched.
You are a member of the Federal Government’s Corona Expert Council. How should politics respond to these tendencies?
Politicians are responsible for ensuring that our individual and social resources are not consumed by the pandemic. It would be bad if we were all so tired of complicated and inconsistent rules that we gave up, didn’t care about rules, or indulged in bitching about others instead of seeing ourselves in the driver’s seat out of the pandemic. Therefore, the rule forest should be simplified. Many people no longer even know which regulations apply to them and would like uniform and easily understandable rules.
Seeing yourself out of the pandemic in the driver’s seat – how does that work?
We have to be clear: we are the pandemic and we are society. We can influence the pandemic through our behavior, we can get vaccinated and tested so as not to become superspreaders. And we are also part of society. Many are afraid that Corona will make them more and more selfish. Here, too, we can take countermeasures through our behavior.
This is likely to become more important given the growing conflicts between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated.
We see in our surveys that identification with one’s own vaccination status is very high on both sides. And of course that creates conflicts – also because the applicable rules are based on this distinction. The unvaccinated feel unfairly treated, the vaccinated are angry at the unvaccinated. And they also discriminate against them, as we can see in our experiments.
How does that go?
We let the participants split a hundred euros between themselves and another person. One time the other person is vaccinated and one time they are unvaccinated. The vaccinated give less money to the unvaccinated, punishing them so to speak for not contributing to the social contract of vaccination.
How do the unvaccinated behave?
They also prefer their own status group, but not as much as the vaccinated.
Vaccinated, unvaccinated – how can we get out of this black and white thinking?
This can take a while. Compulsory vaccination would probably be one way, despite all the resistance it would probably cause. Because then vaccination would no longer be such a strong expression of one’s own preferences, and people who previously didn’t want to could save face if they got vaccinated anyway.