How Practical Wisdom Helps Us Cope with Radical Uncertainty

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first_imgAPS Member/Author: Barry Schwartz Psychological distress in the face of uncertainty is no accident—it’s human nature. Jill Stoddard, a clinical psychologist and author of a book about managing anxiety, told us, “Our anxiety and discomfort are products of evolution. Anxious early humans who avoided uncertainty had a survival advantage.” Modern life makes it even harder to tolerate anxiety, Stoddard added: “If you want the answer to any question, just ask your device. If you want to know whether a restaurant, product, or service will meet your expectations, just go to your favorite search engine. Because technology has deleted our ability to strengthen our tolerance of uncertainty muscles, we have become progressively more anxious when faced with the unknown.” As one recent research study showed, problematic levels of technology use are associated with higher intolerance of uncertainty. While the world begins to open back up in fits and starts, we are, more than ever, longing for certainty and an end to the maze of unanswerable questions. We yearn for rules that can guide healthier, happier living, rules that would offer clear parameters as to “what counts as being safe.” But, despite efforts from researchers and policymakers, few such rules have arrived. Troublingly, when they do, they tend offer a rapidly moving target, such as the viral video describing a complex process of how to safely grocery shop during coronavirus that was followed in short order by other experts dismissing much of the advice it offered. Clearer and more consistent rules may arrive at some point, but in the meantime we need guidance in managing the pain of our uncertainty. The stress of uncertain pain outsizes the stress of certain pain. These were the results of a 2016 study, published long before the uncertainty of Pandemic 2020 was running the world show. In the study, participants with a 50 percent chance of receiving a shock were more stressed than those with a one hundred percent chance of receiving a shock. In other words, it wasn’t just the possibility of a shock that caused stress—it was its uncertainty. This study provides experimental evidence for something most of us are experiencing now: the uncertainty of not knowing what will happen in our world, to our jobs, for our kids, or to our health if we deign to hug friends and family or eat in a restaurant is agonizing. It’s no surprise, then, that a recent study showed a threefold increase in psychological distress from prepandemic times. … Read the whole story: Behavioral Scientist More of our Members in the Media >last_img

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