How to create panic

What is the UK government thinking of?

Suggestions to motorists to ‘top up’ their petrol tanks as a contingency before a date has been set for strike of petrol tanker drivers is already making motorists panicky.

People driving by queues of cars at filling stations will readily take this as a signal to put petrol in their tanks now, adding to pressure on supplies.

Research into human behaviour suggests that we have a herd mentality, particularly when we are anxious or perceive a threat. Even though, rationally, we know we might, by our actions, be making matters worse, we are so influenced by the behaviour of others that we can’t help being caught up in the ensuing panic.

A run on a bank is another manifestation of this heuristic.

The difficulty for the Government is that if it had said ‘don’t panic’ no-one would have believed it. In fact, as we know, humans tend to ignore negative commands – by saying don’t panic you’ve introduced the concept of panic in people’s minds.

If the government thought it was being helpful by preparing people for a worst case scenario then they have done so without any insight into human behaviour.

Strange from a government that introduced behavioural economics into its machinery.

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