Cold, Conjunctivitis and Xenophobia

I have always avoided shaking hands with people who are suffering from cold or have contracted conjunctivitis.

Mumbai unfortunately gets an epidemic of conjunctivitis in May every year, and also of chicken pox. I have often reminded employees that they were not to attend office when suffering from conjunctivitis; and I have also often discovered that they would come to office wearing dark glasses. In some cases I went to the extent of telling them that attending office when suffering from communicable disease is ‘misconduct.’

My wife called this ‘obsessive and compulsive behaviour’ [and my friends have smiled suggesting that they were not exactly in disagreement].

But the latest research comes to my rescue. Here is what the post on [my favourite] British Psychological Society’s Research Digest blog ‘Reminder of disease primes the body and the mind to repel other people’ says:

[Quote]…. there’s research showing that people who are more fearful of disease tend to hold more xenophobic attitudes and to display greater prejudice towards people with outwardly visible disabilities.

In the first study, half of 59 participants watched a disease and infection-themed slide show before completing a measure of their own personality. The other participants watched a slide show about architecture before doing the same. The researchers took pains to conceal the true purpose of the study. They asked participants to rate the slide shows’ usefulness for another project and they had them answer irrelevant questions. The key finding was that participants who watched the disease slide show subsequently rated themselves as less extravert than did the control participants. Also, among those participants who scored highly on a measure of fear of disease, those who watched the infection slide show rated themselves afterwards as less open to experience and less agreeable. Taken altogether this suggests that reminders of disease makes us view ourselves as less outgoing and gregarious, especially if we’re the kind of person who’s already fairly neurotic about infection.

‘…It appears that humans have evolved a mechanism that responds to environmental cues of disease and modulates attitudes and behaviours in functionally appropriate ways,’ the researchers said. [Unquote]

Thanks BPS Digest! Now I understand it’s natural!!