The threat of contagion can twist our psychological responses to ordinary interactions, leading us to behave in unexpected ways.

Rarely has the threat of disease occupied so much of our thinking. For this constant bombardment can result in heightened anxiety, with immediate effects on our mental health. But the constant feeling of threat may have other, more insidious, effects on our psychology. Due to some deeply evolved responses to disease, fears of contagion lead us to become more conformist and tribalistic, and less accepting of eccentricity. Our moral judgements become harsher and our social attitudes more conservative when considering issues such as immigration or sexual freedom and equality. Daily reminders of the disease may even sway our political affiliations., 

Being ill is also physiologically expensive. The rise in body temperature during a fever, for instance, is essential for an effective immune response – but this results in a 13% increase in the body’s energy consumption. When food was scarce, that would have been a serious burden. “Getting sick, and allowing this wonderful immune system to actually work, is really costly,”

It’s kind of like medical insurance – it’s great to have, but it really sucks when you have to use it.”

Being a psychology student, what is doing in this pandamic…? It is the most important time to practise what we learn, that is to help people who are in depression or batteling anxiety due to coronavirus and also help them to spend their time in useful activities for themselves.

Fears of contagion lead us to become more conformist and less accepting of eccentricity”

The same logic may explain why we become more morally vigilant in an outbreak. Studies have shown that when we fear contagion, we tend to be harsher when judging a breach of loyalty (such as an employee who badmouths his company) or when we see someone who fails to respect authority (such as a judge). Those particular incidents would do nothing to spread the disease of course, but by flouting convention, they have given a signal that they may break other more relevant rules that are there to keep disease at bay.

Even extremely subtle reminders of illness can shape our behaviours and attitudes. 

Our heightened distrust and suspicion will also shape our responses to people of different cultural backgrounds. According to Schaller, this may arise from those fears about non-conformity: in the past, people outside our group may have been less likely to observe the specific prescriptive norms that were meant to protect the population from infection, and so we feared that they would unwittingly (or deliberately) spread disease. But today, it can result in prejudice and xenophobia.

Even thinking about a situation like a pandemic can make people value conformity over eccentricity

The influence of the behavioural immune system varies from individual to individual; not everyone would be affected to the same degree. “Some people have a particularly sensitive behavioural immune system that makes them react extra-strongly to things that they interpret as a potential infection risk”. According to the research, those people would already be more respectful of social norms and more distrustful of outsiders than the average person, and an increased threat of disease would simply harden their positions. We do not yet have any hard data on the ways that the coronavirus outbreak is changing our minds

Even if these psychological shifts do not change the result of the election at the national level, it is worth considering how they influence our own personal reactions to the coronavirus. Whether we are expressing a conformist opinion, judging another’s behaviour or trying to understand the value of different containment policies, we might question whether our thoughts are really the result of rational reasoning, or whether they might have been shaped by an ancient response that evolved millennia before the discovery of germ theory.

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Submitted by “Ilham Khan”