From natural calamities that wiped out entire civilizations to deadly wars, the world has seen many catastrophic events. But it is perhaps the first time in recorded history that the entire planet is in a state of crisis due to the spread of Coronavirus or Covid-19.
It is a highly contagious influenza-like disease which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives across more than 200 countries. What makes Covid19 a grave concern for psychologists is the fact that it has a myriad of psycho-social ramifications that have just begun to manifest. Covid19 has more than just physiological effects that are likely to impact the whole gamut of our psycho-social experiences in the times to come. While there is no certainty as to when the outbreak will be quelled, what is definite is that the world would not remain the same once this crisis is over. The next section underscores some of the major after-effects of Covid19 followed by a note on how these various changes can shape Generation Alpha.
A steep rise in psychological disorders can be expected as a result of this global pandemic (Galea, Merchant & Lurie, 2020). From people with no apparent history of psychological illnesses to those suffering from psychological or physiological conditions, everyone is at an increased risk.
Individuals with psychological disorders and addictions. Individuals with psychological disorders are not only at a higher risk of developing Covid19 (Druss, 2020) but their existing psychological conditions may also worsen as a result of reduced social interaction, unavailability of medicines and break in psychotherapy. Similarly, people with addictions are vulnerable too. In the Indian state of Kerala alone, several people have been reported to have committed suicide due to the liquor ban during lockdown. Other than suicide rates, there may also be an increase in domestic abuse cases since people with substance abuse often turn hostile when denied access to drugs and alcohol.
Individuals with physical illnesses. People who are currently under treatment for physical illnesses, especially terminal ones, are hit the hardest by Covid19. Such people constitute the “high-risk” population as they can catch the infection more easily because of their physical and immunological weakness. Epigenetic researches have confirmed that certain existing infirmities and comorbidities increase the organism’s vulnerability to developing Covid19 (Yildirim, Sahin, Yazar & Cetintas, 2021). And due to this fear of contagion their conditions are expected to deteriorate further as they are being denied treatment in hospitals.
People with no history of psychological illnesses. The world right now is witnessing the largest mass quarantine with countries like India, China, New Zealand, France, Italy, UK and Poland implementing nationwide lockdowns. Consequently, the average screen time has spurted as we spend hours on electronic devices such as TV, laptop, tablet or mobile phones for work, news, entertainment or to simply stay connected. While technology has come to our rescue in these tumultuous times, it has its own flip side too. The increase in screen time could be a leading cause of irritability and disturbed circadian rhythm, which may take a toll on our physical as well as psychological health. Likewise, due to the constant exposure to anxiety evoking or distressing news (eg. new cases and death tolls) on news channels as well as social media, people are experiencing anxiety, stress, hopelessness, alienation and sometimes even depression. Moreover, as much as it is important to follow the health advisories issued by medical bodies, some people are developing OCDs which is compounding their existing anxieties.
The Positive side
Although the seriousness of these negative psychological effects is uncontested, we can, nonetheless fight them back with positivity and grit. A lot of people are leveraging this opportunity to spend more ‘Me time’, indulging in introspection and self-reflection. Similarly, those living with their families are spending time with their loved ones to revitalize their relationships and to compensate for all the dinner table talks that they missed due to their hectic schedules. For some of us, it is an extraordinary opportunity for exploring and strengthening our spiritual self. And finally, a surprisingly high number of people, from all different backgrounds and strata, have come forward to help the poor and deprived. Such altruistic and philanthropic acts not only reduce the misery of the destitute but also enhance people’s own self-esteem (Szabla, 2012).
Something as pervasive as Covid19 is bound to have macro-level implications too. Among other societal contingencies, this mass paranoia has cultivated a unique sense of ‘Collective Collectivism’ which reflects in expressions like ‘We are in this together’. As oxymoronic as it may sound, social distancing has actually brought the world closer together.
A condition that doesn’t spare even the most powerful and influential people (Royals, celebrities and political leaders) and one that no amount of money can avert has caused all man made social hierarchies to collapse and dissolve. The global crisis has pushed us to broaden our vision and ponder over metaphysical realities of human existence and purpose of life and has made us realize just how miniscule we are in the larger scheme of things.
Right from plummeting global economy to massive downsizing and unemployment, Covid19 is responsible for an array of imminent economic consequences (Pak, Adegboye, Adekunle, Rahman, McBryde & Eisen, 2020), some of which are already evident while others will continue to unfold in the years to come. Professional future seems equally blurred for everyone alike. Those who are currently employed fear job insecurity and lay-offs that may soon ensue as a result of economic downfall, whereas people who are on the cusp of graduating and entering the workplace perceive their career prospects to be rather bleak.
If there is something that has benefitted from this crisis, it is our environment. While us, humans are going through a phase of extreme chaos and cynicism, nature is regaining normalcy again. Air quality, even in the most highly polluted cities like New Delhi, has improved like never before, rivers that were exposed to diverse pollutants for years have miraculously become cleaner, and animals have started reclaiming their human-occupied territories. All these changes are hoped to make us more mindful of our role in climate change.
Covid-19 and Gen alpha
There is no denying that Covid19 will affect all of us, leaving behind some serious long-term repercussions. One cohort that is likely to be affected in particular by these lived experiences, is Gen alpha; the latest addition to generational taxonomy. These are people born after the year 2010, who, upon growing up, are expected to be highly educated, extremely tech-savvy and wealthy (Pinsker, 2020). Although trend observers may be right about some of the characteristics of this generation, they have not yet focused on how Covid19 could shape the attitudes and psyche of Gen Alpha. Generation, by definition, is a group of people born around the same time period, who share important socio-cultural experiences (Edmunds & Turner, 2002). And for gen Alpha, the global pandemic and its resultant experiences such as living in self-quarantine, social distancing, increased dependence on technology and a general sense of fear and ambivalence constitute these shared experiences that are expected to influence this generation as they grow up. Moreover, gen Alpha is likely to be affected more strongly than any other generation because it is witnessing the pandemic at a very impressionable age and as per the psychoanalytic perspective, experiencing such drastic events during the formative years of one’s life can shape people’s behavior, personalities and worldviews in important ways.
First of all, how we collectively come out of this global crisis can have significant positive or negative effects on Gen alpha’s Psychological capital, particularly resilience. They may also grow up to become more thankful as they will be able to appreciate and show gratitude for the small things (eg. family, food, social interactions etc.) that were largely trivialized and ignored until the crisis erupted. The dissolution of societal stratification can make this generation more egalitarian and the strong sense of togetherness, that this pandemic has awakened, may orient them towards collectivism. The economic fluctuations, on the other hand, can be expected to increase gen Alpha’s threshold for uncertainty avoidance. And the environmental changes may make this cohort more sensitive to the issue of climate change. Similarly, unlike other generations that exhibit cross-cultural differences in terms of their characteristics, owing to the heterogeneity of their socio-political experiences (Hansen & Leuty, 2012), Gen alpha could be expected to be more similar than dissimilar as a result of this shared lived experience. Lastly, informed by epigenetic researches which indicate that the process of genetic expression is influenced not only by anatomical factors but psycho-social determinants too (CDC, n.d.), it would be hugely interesting to identify Covid-induced epigenetic changes among the said cohort.
Hence, it may be too early for any concrete extrapolations but we can certainly rely on our understanding of the current situation coupled with psychological and behavioral theories to make informed guesses about Gen alpha and can prepare ourselves to manage them better in the future.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (n.d.). Genomics & Precision Health. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/genomics/disease/epigenetics.htm on 13/08/2021.
Druss, B. G. (2020). Addressing the COVID-19 pandemic in populations with serious mental illness. Jama Psychiatry. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/2764227 on 13/04/2020.
Edmunds, J., & Turner, B. S. (2002). Generational consciousness, narrative and politics. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Galea, S., Merchant, R. M. & Lurie, N. L. (2020). The mental health consequences of COVID-19 and physical distancing. The need for prevention and early intervention. JAMA International Medicine. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2764404 on 13/04/2020.
Hansen, J. I. C. & Leuty, M. E. (2012). Work values across generations. Journal of Career Assessment, 20, 34-52.
Pinsker, J. (2020, February). Oh no, they’ve come up with another generation label: How much do members of “Generation Alpha,” or any generation, really have in common? The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2020/02/generation-after-gen-z-named-alpha/606862/ on 12/04/2020.
Szabla, M. (2012). The influence of imagined helping behavior on self-esteem. Social psychology perspective (Unpublished bachelor’s dissertation). Tilburg University, Netherlands.
Covid19 and the next Gen
Yildirim, Z., Sahin, O. S., Yazar, S. & Cetintas, V. B. (2021). Genetic and epigenetic factors associated with increased severity of Covid-19. Cell Biology International, 45(6), 1158-1174. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/cbin.11572
Pak, A., Adegboye, O. A., Adekunle1, A. I., Rahman, K. M., McBryde, E. S. & Eisen, D. P. (2020). Economic consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak: The need for epidemic preparedness. Frontiers in Public Health. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2020.00241
The author of above opinion piece is Dr. Nasrina Siddiqi who is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Psychology, Kamala Nehru College, University of Delhi, New Delhi, India. She has been in academia for almost five years and has more than eight years of research experience in various qualitative and quantitative methods. She has successfully carried out multiple research projects with primary as well as secondary data and has more than fifteen articles, published in journals of national and international repute, to her credit. The key areas of her research interest include gender related issues, social and cross-cultural psychology and generational diversity.