The new species of coronavirus discovered in the Chinese region of Wuhan, SARS-CoV-2, is moving from global news to a real phenomenon that affects most of the countries in the world politically and economically.
The disease it produces, coronavirus pneumonia or COVID-19, is considered a particularly acute serious threat in the elderly and those in general poor health, and is spreading more rapidly, following exponential progression.
However, between the physical consequences that this virus generates in the human body and the economic and political consequences, there is another level of analysis that must also be taken into account: the psychological effects of the coronavirus, Both at the level of individual behavior and at the level of collective and social behavior.
The psychological effects of the coronavirus and its COVID-19 disease
First of all, it must be assumed that both the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (it has been known for many years about the existence of coronavirus, but not of this particular species) and the disease that still produces they raise many unanswered questions for the scientific community, which works against time to accumulate all possible knowledge about its characteristics.
In contrast, the general population only recently learned of the existence of this virus, and the number of infected people is still insufficient to have conducted research focused on how all of this influences our behavior.
It is because of these kinds of limitations that what we will see here is essentially an overview of the psychological consequences of the coronavirus which, from my perspective as a psychologist, I think is to be expected. Having said that, let’s see what they are.
1. The most important factor: hypochondria
Hypochondria is the clearest psychological consequence of phenomena such as the spread of this coronavirus. This propensity to assume that the probability that we are infected or that a disease affects us is very high is more or less latent in most people, but in some cases it becomes somewhat pathological, appearing in diagnostic textbooks of psychiatry and clinical psychology.
It is true that this new version of the coronavirus which has been transmitted to humans is far more contagious than the seasonal flu, but it is also true that exposure to constant alarmist messages can cause many people to go downright needlessly wrong. .
2. Power information: the importance of rumors
Faced with situations that generate uncertainty, information becomes more valuable than ever. And of course the spread of coronavirus disease fits into this class of ambiguous situations in which there is a lot of speculation about what will happen: something like this never happened (because this type of virus had never passed from animals to humans), and at the same time, the media are constantly bombarded with information about it, often exaggerating its danger given the limited information on the health risks it presents.
This is why, unfortunately, these cases of mass contagion they are able to harm many people due to the importance given to rumors. Rumors are ultimately information whose value lies in the speed with which they pass from one person to another at the cost of not being validated, contrasted with the rigor they deserve.
And this explains why they tend to overlap with stereotypes, making marginalized minorities and more excluded people living in small communities more likely to be stigmatized, whether or not they are truly infected (and although in in many cases the discrimination they suffer from can constitute an obstacle against contagion, paradoxically).
3. The preference for the small community
Humans are social animals “by nature”, as they say. However, being social does not mean that the societies in which we want to be a part are very large. In fact, the changes that take place in the context are able to make us turn quickly in this direction, Shift from participation in large sectors of society to a willingness to participate almost exclusively in micro-societies, such as the family.
Usually, when fear of pandemics arises, people tend to want to avoid insignificant social relationships, focusing on interacting with the most relevant people and those with whom one usually coexists the most (i.e. say which ones are most likely to expose them to the same people, minimizing the risk of infection).
4. Emphasis on long-term thinking
Another of the psychological consequences of the coronavirus is also linked to the fear of radical lifestyle changes.
The expectation that governments implement policy measures that radically change our way of life they lead to the stacking of goods, for example what is already noticeable on the shelves of supermarkets in different countries. And sometimes the fear is not so much the actions taken by politicians, but a situation of uncontrollability in which even basic goods are not guaranteed.
After all, research shows that humans tend to focus on pessimistic choices of the future (among several possible choices that seem reasonable to us). While this involves losing the chance to win, we are more concerned with the risk of losing.
- Avia, MD (1993). Hypochondria. Barcelona: Edicions Martínez Roca SA
- Besnier, N. (2009). Gossip and the daily production of politics. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.