Cheers to the Pandemic: The Psychology of Parties in the Time of Coronavirus
Updated: Nov 24, 2020
Western has a partying problem.
Parties should’ve ended when the pandemic canceled classes in March. They should’ve ended in September after an outbreak on campus infected at least 28 students. And they really should’ve ended before the end of October, as a second wave raged, steep fines were imposed, and despotic disciplinary measures were enacted by the university. But the party must go on, and on Halloween night, one hundred and fifty Western students gathered to turn up.
Why are students defying danger to party? Psychologists speculate that there could be several reasons.
Being young isn’t an excuse for partying—but according to science, it is an excuse for having a developing brain, which is an excuse for acting rashly and partying recklessly. Since the human brain doesn’t stop developing until our mid-20s, we are prone to the many downfalls of being (literally) immature in the meantime. One of the last regions of the brain to finish developing is the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in judgment, impulse control, and emotion regulation, among other functions that are crucial to keeping students away from parties. While this development is happening, we are more reliant on our amygdala, the fight-or-flight, act-on-impulse region of the brain to make decisions that should be informed and well-thought-out, making us more prone to misjudge risks and seek instant gratification. Resultantly, the consequences could be less than ideal, such as deciding to participate in weekday ragers in the midst of a pandemic.
Being in quarantine takes a mental toll. According to Health Canada, 11 million Canadians are experiencing elevated levels of stress, while another survey from Mental Health Research Canada suggests that 22% of the population face high anxiety levels. A surge in calls to Kids Help Phone since March also reflects this troubling trend. Some psychiatrists suggest that the social act of partying could be a coping mechanism through which young adults distract themselves from distress and frustration caused by the pandemic.
Partying could also be an attempt to return to normalcy.
As the pandemic drags on, public fatigue is becoming a real threat as people tire from strict COVID-19 rules. Pandemic fatigue, as it is known, is causing people to become demotivated about abiding by public health precautions and to return to perilous pre-pandemic habits. In particular, after spending the better part of the year confined and restricted, students are bored and tired of social isolation and pandemic precautions. By reopening the campus after six months, Western gave socially-starved students the means and the temptation to return to partying. As some students decided to party, peer pressure and social media-induced FOMO caused an even greater number of students to do the same.
Although the opinions of middle-aged academics who haven’t been in a dorm for decades is far from flawless, it does underscore the complexity of our reasons for partying. There isn’t a singular answer to why people party, and therefore, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. It is crucial to determine the reasons why students are partying and to address these concerns promptly and properly. After all, it only takes a single infected individual to turn a party into a COVID-19 super-spreading event, and that one person not showing up could make all the difference.