In light of the growing threat of the avian flu, we thought it would be useful to investigate the psychological coping mechanisms that people employ to deal with pandemics and to try to minimize chaos by predicting these responses. Using historical accounts of epidemics, we concluded that responses can be characterized by a need to deal with the trauma of death and disease. Psychological coping mechanisms for dealing with this trauma include: projection, denial, rationalization and displacement. These coping mechanisms manifest themselves in instances of social upheaval, religious revivals, scapegoating of minority groups, and sensationalization by the media. We propose that the best way to minimize adverse social reactions in this media-centered society, is to use the media to encourage more reality-oriented psycho-social responses that would minimize chaos.
[...] Epidemics and the Media Past epidemics have shown that availability of accurate information about the disease can greatly influence social responses. R.J. Morris discusses how wall posters and handbills were used to spread information about Cholera in Great Britain in the 1830's. Recent innovations in print technology had made the posters cheap and easy to print. This innovation increased the availability of information and saved many lives. Posters encouraged the ill to visit hospitals, noting the availability of treatment and the reduced risk to friends. [...]
[...] Important variables in this test would include a person's tendency to improperly place blame, zeal in religious activities (or other group activity), distrust in social or governmental institutions, and amount of anxiety or panic. Bibliography Bartholomew, Robert E., Victor, Jeffery S. (2004). A Socio-Psychological Theory of Collective Anxiety Attacks: The Gasser' reexamined Robert E., Jeffery S. Victor Sociological Quarterly Spring 2004 Vol Browsky, W. M. (1971). Germany: The Flagellants and the Persecution of the Jews. Black Death, 73-78 Chase, M. [...]
[...] In both these examples, the insistence upon certain rituals provided new outlets for the spread of disease caused more deaths. Placing Blame in the Face of Epidemics Isolating groups as causes and centers of disease is an attempt to reduce the randomness of epidemics and alleviate feelings of vulnerability commonly experienced when faced with the immediate possibility of death. Rather than defining new social boundaries in relation to the effects and causes of an epidemic, the tendency of society is to reinforce preexisting social confines in its attempt to bring order to a chaotic situation. [...]
[...] Social Upheaval as a Reaction to Epidemics Since the basic premises of a society (equality, stability, social contract) are challenged by epidemic, epidemics can and often do result in social change. When societies are put under the strain of plague, it often highlights hypocrisy and inequities within the system. A clear example of unstable societies crumbling under the pressure of epidemics can be found in the reactions of eastern European nations to the cholera epidemics of the 1830's and 40's. [...]
[...] In his essay “Misplaced Metaphor: A Critical Analysis of the ‘Knowledge Society”, Sheldon Ungar argues that in spite of the advent of network news and the internet, people are no more informed about their world than they were forty years ago. He claims that an increase in the specialization of knowledge in the workplace has created a “knowledge adverse” culture that relies on prepackaged data rather than critical knowledge. He cites the fact that an alarming number of doctors rely on videos put together by drug companies for updates on new kinds of medicine because reading medical journals is too “time consuming”(Sheldon, 2003). [...]
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