A: Our brains are wired to despise uncertainty. Cognitive scientists advise a COMPLY – CONSOLIDATE – CONSULT strategy to help cope.
During a pandemic – and this current one is clearly on brand – uncertainty reigns. As Drs. Geeta Menon and Ellie Kyung articulate in a recent Harvard Business Review article, it’s natural to respond by going into “information processing overdrive” to cope with the DANGER! DANGER! DANGER! signal that uncertainty pings in our brains. In the search for resolution, our brains seek ever increasing amounts of information. Be honest: Have you found yourself going down information rabbit holes during the pandemic? This Nerdy Girl (Lindsey) sure has! Right now, for example, I’m getting sucked into the vortex of school reopening articles. Perhaps my fellow parents of school-age kids might empathize?!
The article lays out the three types of uncertainty with which we’re wrestling: (1) Probability: The uncertainty resulting from estimating risk; (2) Ambiguity: The uncertainty resulting from “imprecise, conflicting, or insufficient” information; (3) Complexity: The uncertainty resulting from needing to understand complex issues. Suffice it to say that pandemic living is pretty much off-the-charts along all three of these dimensions.
So how do we cope? Drs. Menon and Kyung recommend the COMPLY – CONSOLIDATE – CONSULT strategy to effectively navigate information overwhelm. Here’s what that entails (text directly from the table in the HBR article):
1. COMPLY: Reduce your risk by complying with expert recommendations*
2. CONSOLIDATE: Triage conflicting evidence to determine what is most likely
3. CONSULT: Turn to experts to simplify complex information
The authors also mention the importance of attending to emotional well-being as an important buffer against uncertainty-induced distress. For more on that topic, see our earlier related post.
And please know that Team Nerdy Girls will continue to work hard to support you in navigating the Coronavirus “infodemic.” It’s our honor and privilege to do so, and we are grateful beyond measure for the trust that you place in us. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, THE DEAR PANDEMIC COMMUNITY IS WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL!
*Editorial note: May I recommend to you Nerdy Girl Malia’s epic Fauci lipsync on this very issue?