That the Legault government adjust the health measures, yes. But the current way of doing things – this impression that Quebec is playing yoyo – involves real risks that the population simply loses confidence, warn psychology experts. These plead for an urgent shift in clarity. Decoding.
Acknowledge your mistakes.
“The problem with the perception of back and forth is that it leads the public to believe that the government has no plan, or does not know what it is doing,” said psychologist Kim Lavoie, incumbent of the Canada Research Chair in Behavioral Medicine. “And the other problem is to turn around like that [les différentes mesures] without acknowledging that we made a mistake. “
Because of course mistakes and adjustments are inevitable in a crisis of this magnitude, she says. In the last few days, the government had to operate rapid about-face on measures barely announced: in the crisis unit in Quebec, we had obviously misjudged the progression of variants.
Kim Lavoie applauds the tightening of measures … but notes that “not to recognize that there was an error at the base [au moment d’annoncer les allègements, alors que plusieurs experts prévenaient déjà des risques], it sabotages the trust we have in the government. However, they do not seem able to recognize errors. And the population asks: what assurance do we have that this will not be repeated? “
Professor in the information and communication department of Laval University, Ariane Bélanger-Gravel emphasizes the notion of transparency. “In communication, there is a very important factor which is the credibility of the source,” she says. And it can be judged on two dimensions: expertise and honesty – transparency. “
“I think there is an issue right now in terms of trust in the message. People can have the impression that we are being told anything, that everything can change suddenly. So yes it has an impact on membership, and confidence decreases, and that raises issues on subsequent behaviors. “
Yet it is normal that the government should review certain decisions, she said. “I see that we often follow a precautionary principle: they have established criteria, but for various reasons, that no longer holds. This is what we have seen in the last days. But the important thing in these cases is to explain more. “
This is also what psychologist Geneviève Beaulieu-Pelletier, associate professor at UQAM, says. “Of course, having contradictory decisions in a few days leads to insecurity and questioning,” she said. But that does not mean that the government must not change course: it must manage by seeking a complicated balance between confinement, mental health, demands from all sectors … It is a very difficult job and we are expects them to reconsider certain decisions. But in these cases, what is important is to clearly explain the changes. We want it to be clear and consistent. “
The recent decisions of the government will have allowed the return to classes of certain high school students… who barely had time to open their bags before being reassigned to their homes. The intention might have been good, but psychologist Beaulieu-Pelletier says playing yoyo like that is ultimately much more harmful than anything else – at school and elsewhere.
“When you know what’s coming, you have a good ability to adapt, you are able to get through difficult times,” she notes. But when things are constantly changing, we can’t plan or predict, so we can’t adapt our reality according to events. “
Kim Lavoie recalls that the “yoyo necessarily involves rapid changes” in people’s lives. “In humans, any change is stressful, confronts us with uncertainty. And on top of that, any unexpected, spontaneous, unforeseen change, faced with which we have little time to digest, to prepare, well that arouses a lot of anxiety, which can turn into resistance. “
She believes that recent events clearly show that the government would be better off “modulating people’s expectations” rather than letting the prospect of clarification that does not last. “It’s always better to be careful, to keep expectations neutral, than to increase expectations and ultimately disappoint. “
Nor does it underestimate the effect of accumulation, adds Geneviève Beaulieu-Pelletier. “We get to this point where we saw the vaccine, in the spring, there was hope. We deconfined, then we had to back down. But it happened at the worst time, when we are all mentally tired. “
Understand the danger.
Kim Lavoie co-directs a large international study (iCare) on the understanding and reactions of populations to government directives in the context of the current crisis. She has noted for a while a decreasing factor: “the perception of the importance of health measures, which reflects a loss of confidence in the government. “
“One of the determinants of human behavior is how much we perceive our behavior [individuel] as important [sur le plan collectif — par exemple : porter un masque, respecter les interdictions de rassemblement, etc..], she says. But when people see that there can be 250 in a church, they can tell themselves that it’s okay to have four or five at home. If we leave 100 people in a gym, it shouldn’t be a problem to see some friends outside of school, etc. It is this kind of inconsistency that is confusing for the population. And which suggests that the government does not know what it is talking about. “
Do not target.
A professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Montreal and an expert in social psychology, Roxane de la Sablonnière also believes that it is quite possible for the government to set the bar down as events unfold. But like her colleagues, she recalls that “clarity and consistency” are essential for things to go well.
“And I add: not to focus on the recalcitrant, while the vast majority of the population respects the rules and adhere to them. By always taking the recalcitrant as an example, or by pinpointing a specific group such as young people, the government is paying negative attention to behavior that is not necessarily representative. “
However, “a lot of research shows that social norms really influence people”. In other words: if we know that the others respect this or that instruction, the adhesion is stronger. Ms. de la Sablonnière gives the example of messages in hotels asking to reuse towels for, essentially, “to save the planet”. “Research shows it doesn’t work… But what works is making people believe that the majority of customers do this. “