You’re Overconfident About Your Ability to Remember: Use the Covid-19 Tracer App

You’ll remember exactly where you’ve been and who you’ve been in contact with over the last two weeks, won’t you? 

“Of course I will!”, I hear you reply. 

If the actual rate of use of the NZ Covid-19 app is anything to go by, lots of people think they’ll remember. The abysmal tanking in its rate of use of the past few weeks is not a good sign. 

It’s a sign that is borne out by the research too. You’re overconfident in your ability to remember where you’ve been and who you’ve been in contact with over the last two weeks. 

And I know what you’re thinking:

“Yeah, maybe. Whatever. But if I needed to, I could remember, I am sure of it.”

Guess what? Not thinking you’re overconfident is a tell for being overconfident.

We forget stuff. Everyone does it; everyone knows it. 

What did you have for dinner last Wednesday night? Is it difficult to recall? If someone has asked you that question on Thursday morning, you’d probably have no problem remembering what you’d had for dinner the night before. 

But as intervening days pass, the memories of all the other meals you have eaten since then start to interfere with your memory of that one particular meal. This is a good example of what psychologists call the interference theory of forgetting.

This theory suggests that forgetting is the result of different memories interfering with one another. The more similar two or more events are to one another, the more likely interference will occur.

Unique events, however, are less likely to suffer from interference. Your wedding, the day your graduated maybe, and the birth of your first child are much more likely to be recalled because they are singular events—days like no other.

But now, in these pandemic times, its di􏰾fficult to remember what happened on an average day two weeks ago because so many other days have occurred since then: what you ate, who you ate with, who else might have dropped by to say hi, exactly where that happened, and between what times. 

One tactic to deal with interference is to “contract out”what you need to remember by writing it down, or using some kind of digital notebook. It’s why people take photos of their food. Associated memories come flooding back – what it wa like, what the event was, who you were with. But it won’t be the detail that you might need for contact tracing purposes. 

If someone asks you if you can remember something, try saying no and then do something about it. There’s no shame in it. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Forgetting is common. 

Figure out some way to “offload” the information to your environment.

This is what the Covid-19 app is conveniently for. 

Who knew? 

Or you could fill in the sign-in register, but that’s just another thing to remember. 

Build a habit. Do it ALL THE TIME. Because if you think about the likely trade-off, if we all want a Level 1 summer break, how about we all take the SECONDS we need to use the QR codes and check-in with the app? Trade weeks of lockdown for mere moments to check-in?

Sounds like a good deal to me.

And if you are running a business who has taken down your QR codes, or now there’s only one, and its hard to get to, please stop that. Make it prominent. Make it easy. Make it normal.

Wash your hands. Use the tracer app to check-in. Wear a mask in enclosed spaces like public transport.

Seriously, the costs aren’t that high compared to the alternatives. 

Don’t wait until bad things happen.

It’s in our control. It’s in your control. Because behaviour is still the best tool we have against the spread of Covid-19. 

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