We struggle with ‘the illusion of control’
When we feel anxious about something, we become desperate to gain some sense of control over the situation.
It’s a phenomenon psychologists call the “illusion of control.” And research shows we often make strange decisions based on our perceived level of control.
For example, research shows most people think they are less likely to get into an accident when driving a car, as opposed to being the passenger. Being in the driver’s seat makes people think they can prevent accidents — even though it doesn’t really guarantee this at all.
Similarly, studies also show that people think they have a better chance of winning the lottery when they pick their own numbers, as opposed to allowing the computer to pick for them. Even though the numbers are drawn randomly, people are more likely to assume that having more control (picking their own numbers) increases their chances of success.
When it comes to the coronavirus, most of us likely feel we have little control over whether we contract it. And little is known about what might happen if we get it.
Wearing a face mask is one way to convince ourselves that we have some control over it. We tell ourselves, “Wearing this mask decreases my chances of getting sick.” This, in turn, reduces our anxiety.
Rather than idly waiting for something bad to happen, we feel better if we take some sort of action. Even if the action isn’t helpful, we have a way of fooling ourselves into believing that our behavior has control over the outcome.