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Anger is part of public response to Covid-19, says academic

The more frustrated people get, the ‘greater the tendency to be aggressive’

People can experience the isolation and self-distancing required by Covid-19 restrictions as a form of punishment and lash out with aggressive behaviour, a West Australian academic has said.

Guy Hall, chair of criminology at Murdoch University in Perth, suggests that understanding how frustration can lead to aggressive behaviour is vital when dealing with public reactions to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“How we interpret the world becomes integral to understanding the attribution of hostile intent,” he says in a university statement.

“Interpreting another’s actions as being deliberately hostile can lead to lesser effort in reaching a resolution. This is because the malintent feels directed, like ‘that person took five rolls of toilet paper to deliberately leave me with none’.”

Hall suggests that psychological theories about frustration, aggression and threat response can help explain some of the aggressive behaviour—such as supermarket fights over toilet paper—that have been provoked by the pandemic.

“If you wait a long time to get into a supermarket to buy toilet paper, you can expect more aggression than if you walked in, saw no toilet paper and walked out quickly,” he says.

“If you then move on to another store to buy toilet paper and there was none there, it’s likely at the next store you will be more frustrated. The more frustrated people get, the greater the tendency to be aggressive.”

Hall says impulse control and realising that actions have consequences are necessary to control anger and frustration at unexpected changes, such as product shortages linked to Covid-19.