PATTAYA: Imagine that it is March 15. You are living in Pattaya and own a small business dependent in part upon nighttime trade. You are in a deep slumber for 45 days and upon awakening May 1 discover that a countrywide curfew has been imposed. You have been ordered to close your business between the 10 pm and 4 am trading hours. You are depressed.

You speak to your friend who also has a small business in Pattaya and she seems elated. Your business situations are identical: both you and your friend can expect to earn less than before the curfew was imposed. However, your friend is happy because she is now in a better relative position than she was during the first days of the curfew when her business was completely shut down.

You as an awakening shopkeeper have only the present pain of the relatively mild curfew in mind whereas your friend and the other business owners in Pattaya have a different frame of reference.

Behavioral science provides an explanation as to why you and your friend are reacting differently, and more generally, why shopkeepers in Pattaya might not seem particularly put out about extending the curfew into May.

In a laboratory experiment, Nobel-prize winning psychologist Danny Kahneman and his colleagues asked people to immerse one hand in painfully cold water for 60 seconds, and then the other hand in the same painfully cold water for 60 seconds followed by a slightly less cold, less painful 30 seconds more. When asked which trial they would prefer to repeat, most preferred the longer trial, with more net pain – but less pain at the end.

Physicians have used this principle with patients undergoing colon exams—lengthening the discomfort by a minute, but lessening its intensity. Although the extended milder discomfort added to their net pain experience, patients experiencing this taper-down treatment said the exam was less painful than did those whose pain ended abruptly. What that suggests is that the most recent part of an experience influences our overall evaluation and/or memory of the event. What it also suggests is that allowing businesses to reopen gradually might be less painful than we might have anticipated.


About The Author:

Patrick Mattimore, now retired and living in Pattaya, was an Adjunct Professor of Legal Reasoning and Case Briefing: Tsinghua/Temple Law School LLM Program in Beijing, teaching psychology to students there. He has also been an online columnist for the Phuket Gazette and its partner newspaper China Daily, covering a variety of topics from why rumors spread panic to selfies among the tuhao. Here, he takes a look at the psychology behind relaxing a curfew.

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