Tag Archives: Working memory capacity

Why do some socially isolate and some don’t

The current flare in US cases (and deaths) are likely due to a failure in social isolation, rather than a loosening of restrictions on activity.  Georgia loosened its restrictions back in April.  Following this, new cases dropped for two months, and deaths dropped for nearly 3 months, before rising again to pre-lockdown levels and above.  The number of new ‘cases’ can partially be attributed to more testing, but the number of deaths can not.  For links and the exact numbers see the copy of the previous post after the ***

I think the rise is partially explainable by a failure of social distancing. Have a look at this  https://nypost.com/2020/07/18/video-shows-people-in-queens-flooding-streets-without-masks/.   It may not be a COVID party in name, but it is in fact.

That being the case, wouldn’t it be nice to know why some people social distance and others do not.

Incredibly, a paper just came out looking at exactly that Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. vol. 117 pp. 17667 – 17674 ’20 (28 July).  It’s likely behind a paywall so let me explain what they did.

The work was conducted in the first two weeks after the 13 March declaration of a national emergency.  Some 850 participants from the USA had their working memory tested using the Mechanical Turk from Amazon — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazon_Mechanical_Turk.  Essentially they are volunteers.  I leave it to you to decide how characteristic of the general population at large these people are.   My guess is that they aren’t.

Then the 850 were subsequently asked how much they had complied with social distancing.

But first, a brief discussion of working memory — more is available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Working_memory

Working memory is tested in a variety of methods, but it basically measures how many objects you can temporarily hold in your head at one time.  One way to test it, is to give you a series of digits, and then ask you to repeat them backwards (after a lag of a second or so).  Here’s what the authors used —

“Participants performed an online visual working memory task, in which they tried to memorize a set of briefly presented color squares for  half a second and after a 1 second delay tried to identify a changed color in the test display by clicking on it using a computer mouse.”

The more you can hold in your head for a short period of time, the more working memory you have.  There is a lot of contention about just what intelligence is and how to measure it, but study after study shows that the greater your working memory, the more intelligent you are.

To cut to the chase — here are their results.

The greater their working memory, the greater the degree of compliance with social distancing.

Here is the author’s explanation –what’s yours?

“We find that working memory capacity contributes unique variance to individual differences in social distancing compliance, which may be partially attributed to the relationship between working memory capacity and one’s ability to evaluate the true merits of the recommended social distancing guidelines. This association remains robust after taking into account individual differences in age, gender, education, socioeconomic status, personality, mood-related conditions, and fluid intelligence.”

Talk about currency and relevance ! !   If failure of social distancing explains the rise in cases, studies like this will help us attack it.

Here is the older post with numbers and links


The News is Bad from Georgia

This is an update on a series of post about Georgia and the effect of relaxing restrictions on activity.  If you’ve been following the story, this post is somewhat repetitive, but I’d rather not leave newcomers behind. As of 14 July Georgia seemed to be bucking the trend of increasing deaths (but not of increasing ‘cases’ however defined).  No longer.

 https://dph.georgia.gov/covid-19-daily-status-report.  Page down past the map to the chart with 3 tabs —  cases (which means daily newly diagnosed cases), cumulative cases, and death.  Clicking on the tabs will move you back and forth (or better if your screen is big enough open the link twice and compared cases vs. deaths.

Georgia has changed the way it reports cases, no longer waiting 14 days before result are secure.  I also think they changed some of the older numbers.  I don’t recall seeing over 70 deaths in a day in May and June, yet the current chart shows 4 of them.  There is no way to get the old reports from the Georgia department of health, by clicking on the links in the old posts on the subject.  They all take you to the current one.

The 7 day average of deaths back in 25 April was 35, new cases  740 based on detection of viral genome or antibodies to it — not sick people

Sadly now the 7 day average of death is now 45 and new cases 3700.

The charts allow you to see when both new cases and deaths began to rise.  The number of new cases began to spike 16 June and the number of death began to increase 19 July (eyeball the charts, and you’ll see that these are not precise numbers.  So there was about a 1 month lag between the increases.

So were the doom and gloom sayers correct?  Here they are again to refresh your memory.

From The Atlantic — “Georgia’s Experiment in Human Sacrifice — The state is about to find out how many people need to lose their lives to shore up the economy.” — https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/04/why-georgia-reopening-coronavirus-pandemic/610882/

Possibly they were right, but deaths actually decreased for a month or two after 25 April hitting a low of 13 daily deaths on 2 July.   I don’t think any of them predicted a lag of 2 months before the apocalypse.

Most likely it was a change in behavior.  Have a look at this  https://nypost.com/2020/07/18/video-shows-people-in-queens-flooding-streets-without-masks/.   It may not be a COVID party in name, but it is in fact.

At first glance it appears that they are trying for a Darwin award, but on second glance, based purely on a cost benefit analysis (to them only) the chances of a healthy 18 – 20 year old dying from COVID19 are less than 1 in a thousand.  Libido is incredibly intense at that age.   I’m not sure what I would have done in their shoes.  Here are some statistics from Florida with numbers large enough to be significant

Here is some older data from Florida  (from their department of health) — http://ww11.doh.state.fl.us/comm/_partners/covid19_report_archive/state_reports_latest.pdf

Age  Range     Number of Cases  Number of Hospitalizations Deaths

14 – 24              54,815                                503                                    12

25 – 34             70,030                              1,315                                    34

This is a risk of death if you are a ‘case’ however defined of less than 1/2,000.

This is age range of most of folks in the video. Further more recent examples are lifeguards in NY and on Cape Cod.

Think of all the gay men who knew full well how AIDS was transmitted, still got it and died.  Libido is powerful.  The classic example is Randy Shilts who wrote the magnificent “And the Band Played On” in 1987 about the early days of the epidemic.  He knew everything there was to know about the way the AIDS virus (HIV1) was transmitted yet he himself died of AIDS.

Further examples are lifeguards in NY and on Cape Cod.