The psychological weight of war, even from a distance

War, even before it is a conflict, bombs, deaths, is an idea. A concept, a fear, a possibility on the horizon. When this possibility materializes, life turns upside down and people find themselves at the base of what is Maslow’s famous pyramid of needs. They are catapulted to the basic survival needs.

What about those who are watching? Who watches war from afar? Psychology, especially social psychology, offers us countless ideas for understanding it. I want to remember three: social identity, interdependence of destiny and cognitive overload.

Social identity: us VS them

He defines himself in a group the group you belong to, with which you identify: Italians, whites, Milan fans, coaches, etc. While external group the different from him: French, blacks, Inter fans, workers. The mere existence of these two sets generates conflict, more or less stated and explicit. Within the Ukrainian war, we and his people are evident. It hasn’t been since World War II to have war “at home.” And here lies the difference with other wars in Africa, South America or the Middle East. This time, one of the parties involved is Close, geographically and physically, even yours somatic traits – to us. Proximity, alongside dynamics intragroup-external, is in fact another key element. Whoever is nearby is similar, but is also in sight, next door, neighbor. Therefore, the perception of involvement in the conflict increases enormously. Out of sight out of mindquote, not surprisingly, a very famous proverb.

This war is undermining our idea The West, an intellectual and historical concept, more than geographical and fixed, as the historian Andrea Graziosi explains in his open letter to the Italian Society for the Study of Contemporary History (SISSCO). Undermine ours values ​​of freedom and progressalso thought of as synonymous with intelligence: Who ever today, intelligent, advanced, cultured, ends up waging war? The war belongs to those non-Western peoples, culturally backward, distant. This is the more or less conscious thinking of many. But it doesn’t stop there.

Interdependence of destiny

The war in Ukraine is reminiscent of the nuclear threat, which spread under the skin of several people. In social psychology we speak of the interdependence of destiny within the broader concept of group cohesion: the interdependence of the task, that is to say, to dedicate itself to the same activity, by means of a common intention, is not sufficient. For people to really feel on the same side, they also need to be united – or perceived to be – to same fate on the horizon. Nuclear power interests us and unites the Ukrainian people because an explosion would not be sustained geographically: the consequences would no doubt be direct, but also indirect. Radiation travels miles and its effects can occur even after years. The finger “We’re all in this together” it can be comforting, but in some cases it becomes one condemnation.

Cognitive overload

Proximity to Ukraine – in its various facets – together with the perception of a possible, tragic, common destiny, makes many generations feel involved, for the first time, in a war. As a direct consequence, the need and need to be informed frequently, to take an active part in the debate, to contribute -with donations or direct actions- to offer one’s own support.

He psychological weight of the conflictwhen this is experienced up close but does not actually touch the soil of the country itself, it is condensed into information. In this sense, let’s talk about it cognitive overloadthat is, the phenomenon by which an excessive amount of information is received or sought. This loses clarity needed to analyze the situation, make a decision, or choose where to focus.

In a digital world like the one we live in, the risk is just around the corner. So much so that in recent years we have learned to use the term “infodemia”, that is, the excessive presence of information that makes it difficult to find reliable sources and reliable indications. In this confusion, the cognitive overload appears more than normal. In fact, there are many people who spend a considerable amount of time searching for and reading news, hoping, most of the time, to calm down.anxiety dictated by the uncertainty of the moment. With the consequence, however, that the anxiety that one tries to curb by informing oneself ends up being fed. This creates a vicious circle which stimulates compulsive research and undermines the mental well-being.

The psychological weight of war interests us first hand: it puts us in front of our own limits ia fragility of our balance and that of “our West”. Therefore, I would like to conclude by quoting the words with which Andrea Graziosi ended her letter: “I would very much like to at least think about all this. “


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