Harvard Psychologist Explains All The Violence On Airplanes

We've seen and heard the countless stories of violence on airplanes. There's a reason behind it: it's a result of a a year and a half of fear, anger and anxiety.

One of the components of this is the enforcement of mask mandates. A survey conducted by the Service Employees International Union found that 44% of the 4,187 McDonald's employees surveyed were physically or verbally assaulted over mask mandates that they had to enforce. And, according to many in the service industry, things haven't improved much, despite mask mandates lifting.

A Louisiana Starbucks barista said there is a:

"handful (of customers) that you get each day who will berate or abuse you..."

This is especially true within the flight industry, which still requires masks aboard planes, regardless of vaccination. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) started tracking unruly passenger reports and since January (2021), there has been 2,500 reports to the FAA for unruly behavior, which is "significantly higher" than previous years.

Colleen Burns, a representative with the Association of Flight Attendants union, explains:

"It seems that everybody is angry at everybody 24/7. One little thing sets them over the edge, either they're upset they have to wear the mask or they're upset someone else isn't wearing the mask."

And according to Luana Marques, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School Violence, explains that the pandemic has caused fear and anxiety, which activates the fight-or-flight part of our brains. Here's what she has to say:

"Patience is the ability to restrain your emotions a little bit, right? And you need your thinking brain there. You need to be able to assess the situation, you need to be able to just slow down and not let your emotional brain take off. But if you walk into a store ... and you're already on edge, you're more likely to get impatient because you're not able to press 'pause' on your emotional brain."

Basically, people are "riding really high cortisol", which makes them reach their "boiling point quicker".

Marques explains one method to help ease tension and anxiety: shifting perspective. She says:

"When we're anxious, our lenses are distorted. We tend to magnify or 'catastrophize'. Widen your lenses and try to collect more data - that tends to also cool off the brain a little bit."

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