Read more about the science behind mindset change during crises in The Disrupted Mind Part 1: Scientific Insights.
Disorientation is a psychological state that is characterised by confusion and is triggered by the outbreak or the continuation of a disruptive crisis.
Crises shake our individual opinions, worldviews and rules for making decisions. If we can no longer explain what is happening around us, nor understand what is the appropriate action to take according to our current mindsets, we are open to new ones. Disoriented, we tend to seek comfort-reestablishing, simple, hero-villain or authority stories (see Recommendations 1 and 2).
New experiences and habit disruption
Living through a crisis is usually accompanied by a series of new experiences that disrupt our habitual behaviours and ways of responding. These emergency experiences can be very different in nature. They could be negative, for example, a risk to our health or our lives, damage to property, social distancing etc. or positive experiences i.e. saving lives, supporting your community, being unified and connected to other people (See Recommendations 3 and 4).
These experiences help shape mindsets by creating new norms and narratives or even identities. Once more, the results of this can be both positive or negative. The more memorable or longer-lasting they are, the more these new experiences and habit disruptions are likely to be accepted as the new normal during the recovery or transition phase of a crisis (See Recommendations 6 and 7).
Disaster identity and community
A particularly powerful positive force of disruption is the creation of a temporary “disaster community” identity – the feeling of being a part of a group of survivors that have all shared the same hardship. This identity drives prosocial actions during the early post-impact phases of a crisis (the so-called “Hero” and “Honeymoon” phases), creating societal cohesion and a culture of support and inclusion.
In general, this is a positive force as it mimics the positive cultures and behaviours needed for systemic change. But its magnitude can be positively or negatively influenced by how well the crisis is managed and other factors.
Disillusionment represents the accumulation of mainly negative emotions, ranging from anger and discontent to anxiety and depression. It usually sets in when people realise that the impact of the crisis is longer than they first expected or harder to deal with. In general, it is a negative force that fragments societies, allowing for the creation and establishment of negative narratives, norms and identities. It can even lead to social unrest. At this stage people are heavily influenced by emotions and are unable to rationally engage with the situation.
The level of disillusionment depends on the context of the crisis and can be influenced both positively and negatively. For example, the accumulation of negative emotions can also manifest in surprising ways, for instance, hedonistic indulgence or the adoption of a carpe diem mentality (see Recommendation 7).
Collective (re-)negotiation of mindsets
While individual mindsets might be affected by the crisis itself, the creation of new shared meanings and norms is a social process. This is built on a combination of our own shared experiences and the communication we receive about them. Exposure to communication on different levels and platforms anywhere from conversations at home and social media to news and political debates, allows social groups to reach alignment or agreement on narratives, norms, emotions, identities and values (see Recommendations 5, 6 and 7).
This alignment can be more or less homogeneous or lead to a split into several new mindsets shared by separate groups, with a potential risk of polarisation. This will depend on how fragmented the society already is, and the impact of the other disruption forces.
Shifting emotions tool
The Mindworks tool to help you understand and shift the emotions of your audience.Learn more →
Want to learn and exchange with fellow changemakers?
Join the conversation on:Slack