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Description: You are wearing a mask when you need to right? Its has become clear that mask wearing is perhaps the most important thing we can do to limit exposure to Covid-19 until a vaccine become readily available. What is also clear is that there are many factors involved in determining when people feel more or less deeply inclined to wear masks and otherwise social distance. For example, how do YOU define your bubble? Wo do you feel more comfortable around? Who or what sorts of people do you feel less comfortable (Covid-safe) around? Research into what has been called out Behavioral-Immune System looks at the ways in which we detect and avoid signs of infectious disease. What sorts of factors are involved? Well, think of the automatic feeling of disgust that arises when you encounter the odor of bodily wastes in unexpected locations. Avoiding such wastes has survival value as they can contain pathogens. Now that you have a feel for what sorts of things the Behavioral-Immune System might include, take a moment and see what sort of list of additional core factors or mitigating factors might be at play and then have a look at the article linked below for an overview and a 3 study look at aspects of the Behavioral-Immune System that may be at play in relation to our actions around the Covid pandemic.

Source: Tybur, J. M., Lieberman, D., Fan, L., Kupfer, T. R., & de Vries, R. E. (2020). Behavioral Immune Trade-Offs: Interpersonal Value Relaxes Social Pathogen Avoidance. Psychological Science, 0956797620960011.

Date: October 25, 2020

Photo Credit:  Photo by August de Richelieu from Pexels

Article Link:

As the researchers state, the balance between pathogen avoidance and social acceptance/connection is a critical one. We are, after all, a social species which means that completely avoiding everyone is not an option. Our social connections have ranges of interpersonal value for us. Obviously, family is close, and we use different “rules” with family. However, outside of the family the behavioral-immune factors are more complicated. We need friends, we need social contacts, sometimes with people we do not know well, and we make judgments about safety in such situations based on perceived trustworthiness.

In terms of research process, did you notice how the studies described in the linked article were designed and run using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk? Mechanical Turk creates samples for researchers that are demographically broad and potentially more representative of the general population that the past typical samples of undergraduate students in many Social Psychology studies. That means that the research has more generalizability.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is our Behavioral-Immune System and how are we using it these days?
  2. What are some implications of the Behavioral-Immune System for how we engage in public health messaging during the Covid pandemic?
  3. How do your routine social behaviors these days map into the Behavioral-Immune System and are there aspects of your social behavior you are thinking about different or more closely now?

References (Read Further):

Schaller, M., & Park, J. H. (2011). The behavioral immune system (and why it matters). Current directions in psychological science, 20(2), 99-103. Link

Schaller, M. (2015). The behavioral immune system. The handbook of evolutionary psychology, 1-19. Link

Terrizzi Jr, J. A., Shook, N. J., & McDaniel, M. A. (2013). The behavioral immune system and social conservatism: A meta-analysis. Evolution and Human Behavior, 34(2), 99-108. Link

Ackerman, J. M., Hill, S. E., & Murray, D. R. (2018). The behavioral immune system: Current concerns and future directions. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 12(2), e12371. Link

van Leeuwen, F., & Petersen, M. B. (2018). The behavioral immune system is designed to avoid infected individuals, not outgroups. Evolution and Human Behavior, 39(2), 226-234. Link

Makhanova, A., & Shepherd, M. A. (2020). Behavioral immune system linked to responses to the threat of COVID-19. Personality and Individual Differences, 167, 110221. Link

YANG, Y., ZHU, H. J., ZHOU, W., ZHANG, M. Y., XIE, Y. P., BAO, H. W. S., … & CAI, H. J. The behavioral immune system: A multi-level reconsideration. Advances in Psychological Science, 28(11), 1865. Link

Troisi, A. (2020). Fear of COVID-19: Insights from evolutionary behavioral science. Link