Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Infection Breeds Reticence: The Effects of Disease Salience on Self-Perceptions of Personality and Behavioral Avoidance Tendencies

Chad R. Mortensen, D. Vaughn Becker, Joshua M. Ackerman, Steven L. Neuberg, and Douglas T. Kenrick, (2010) Psychological Science 21(3) 440–447

Past research has shown that humans seem to have evolved behavioural mechanisms for reducing risk of infection form communicable disease. This paper looks to examine this experimentally. Undergraduate students exposed to a disease prime led participants to rate themselves as less extroverted than did exposure to a control prime, and those who thought they were particularly vulnerable to disease also rated themselves as less agreeable and less open to new experiences. Behavioural differences were also found. Past research also suggests that this kind of avoidance, as well as ethnocentrism and various in-group out group behaviours, are also triggered by observing people with other types of physical abnormalities, even when there is no infectious  disease or parasite involved - such as when confronted with physically disabled or obese individuals. Could the recent staggering rise in obesity in the developed world, particularly in the US, partly explain increased prevalence of attitudes and political beliefs tending towards ethnocentrism, illiberal attitudes and the rise of the conservative right?  Hmmm . . .

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