Posts Tagged ‘Steven Taylor’

What We Should Learn from the Current Coronavirus Pandemic

April 28, 2020

This is the final post motivated and based on the the excellent book by Steven Taylor, Ph.D., The Psychology of Pandemics. The subtitle of this book is Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease.

The first thing HM learned was that it is likely that there will be more pandemics. Indeed, if normal activities are resumed prematurely for the current virus, this virus will return to potency. Even if it doesn’t, we learned that pandemics can have three stages. It also appears that for some reason, viruses are becoming more sophisticated and more communicable, so the new normal might involve being constantly vigilant and constantly prepared.

Perhaps the most important thing we should have learned is that politicians who do not listen to the advice of scientists do not belong in office. For too long, Trump ignored scientists and came up with the conspiratorial theory that it was Democrats promoting false news to discredit his presidency.

We might very well experience additional damage from Trump’s ignorance and that is global warming. That can have catastrophic damages sooner than anticipated. There is a clear scientific consensus on this genuine problem. Republicans say that there are conflicting opinions. Trump thinks that scientists propose global warming to get big bucks for their research. Actually, there is an industry and it is a lucrative one. And that is the generation of contrary opinion so that too many Republicans can argue that there are diverse opinions. The big bucks are in generating contrary opinions for the purpose of certain industries and certain politicians. Since HM has a Ph.D, he probably could earn big bucks generating this trash.

There have been many previous healthymemory posts on the need for government supplied health insurance for all residents of the country. These posts have mentioned that the United States is the only advanced country that does not provide this assistance. In all cases, costs are lower with government provided insurance and the health care is better.

A large social support network is needed for these pandemics. And provisions need to be provided so that when people are forced from their jobs, their financial obligations are pushed to the right until they are able to reassume them.

Of course, we also need to have financing for the development of vaccinations and all the services that are needed for pandemics, to include the professionals and the equipment and personal protective equipment they need.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Stress Management Advice

April 27, 2020

This is the penultimate post in a series of posts on a highly relevant book by Steven Taylor, Ph.D., The Psychology of Pandemics. The subtitle of this book is Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease. Dr. Taylor offers the following advice for the general public.

Stay informed about how to keep safe. Seek out information from a credible source such as the WHO or CDC, or local health agency. Follow guidelines of the public health agencies. This might involve staying at home or avoiding public gatherings. Be wary of unsubstantiated rumors. Remember that media tend to sensationalize things by focusing on the bad news (people who become sick) and neglecting the more mundane good news (the many people who didn’t get sick). Limit your exposure to websites or TV programs that fuel your fears. HM recommends that you avoid these websites or TV programs not only for pandemic information, but for all information.
Keep things in perspective. For centuries people have survived hardships. Most people are resilient; most people bounce back and adapt to changes. Do not dwell on worst-cast scenarios. Remember, things will get better.
Stay healthy. A healthy lifestyle, including proper diet, exercise, sleep, and rest, is a good defense against illness. Avoid alcohol and other intoxicating substances. Practice good hygiene, such as hand washing and covering coughs, it will minimize the spread of infection to you and others. Get vaccinated. A healthy body can have a positive impact on your thoughts and emotions, enabling you to make better decisions and help you deal with the flu’s uncertainties. Take time to relax. Maintain your normal routine as far as you can.
Build resilience. Resilience is the process of adapting and coping in the face of adversity. Draw on skills that you have successfully used in the past to cope with life’s challenges. Use those skills to help manage your concerns of the flu’s uncertainties. (There are many healthy memory blog posts to do this. Just enter “resilience” into the search block as
Have a plan. Having a plan to cope with hardships can lessen your anxiety. In case health officials recommend that you stay at home, keep at least a two-week supply of non-perishable, easy to prepare, food, water, and other important household and other supplies, including medical supplies. Consider options for working from home. Plan on how you might care for sick family members. Establish an emergency family communication plan. Plan on how you might spend your time if schools or businesses are closed. Plan to stay at home if you are ill.
Communicate with your children. Discuss the flu in an open, age-appropriate manner with your children. Address your children’s concerns. Remember that children take their cues from adults; if they see that you’re upset then they will become upset. As far as possible, try to maintain your children’s routines and schedules. If you do notice that your child’s behavior has changed significantly at home or at school, discuss the situation with them.
Keep connected. Maintaining social networks can be a valuable way of sharing feelings and relieving stress. You can stay connected via social media if health authorities recommend that you limit face-to-face social contacts. But remember to take breaks from thinking and talking about stressful things in your life.
When to seek help. Some degree of fear or anxiety about the flu is normal, but sometimes people need help to cope with stress. Look for warning signs such as the following: (1) Persistent anxiety, worry, insomnia, irritability, or depression, (2) avoiding social contact to the point where you have become isolated, (3) persistently checking one’s body (taking your temperature) or persistently seeking reassurance about your health from doctors, friends, family, or the Internet, (4) engaging in excessive or unnecessary hygiene precautions, such as wearing a facemask at home or repeatedly washing your hands when there is no need to do so, or (5) abusing alcohol or drugs, or overeating, as a way of coping with stress.
Where to seek help. If any of the warning signs apply to you, then you may benefit from seeing a licensed mental health professional such as a psychologist, family physician, or counselor. Sometime a consultation can be conduced via the Internet. Consulting with a healthcare professional can help ou devise a plan for coping with stress.
HM stresses the value of meditation. There is an enormous number of healthy memory posts on this topic. Just enter “meditation” into the search block at But first enter “Relaxation Response” into this search block.

Improving Risk Communication

April 26, 2020

This is the eighth post in a series of posts on a highly relevant book by Steven Taylor, Ph.D., The Psychology of Pandemics. The subtitle of this book is Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease. The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in that book.

Frightening people into changing their behaviors is widely used in health promotion campaigns. However, there is concern that such messages might induce widespread anxiety, which can create problems of its own. Some commentators argue that risk communications should contain a balance of assuring and fear-inducing information. Other commentators argue that the public should be presented with the worst-case scenario. According to Sandman, a risk-communication consultant, the government must help the public to “visualize what a bad pandemic might be like.” Regarding the 2009 Swine flu pandemic, Sandman asserted that “the CDC’s biggest failure was in not doing enough to help people visualize what a bad pandemic might be like so they can understand and start preparing for the worst.”

Sandman argues that in terms of preparedness planning: (1) People need to be educated as to how they can protect themselves rather than being treated as passive individuals who have little to do except wash their hands and use facemasks, and (2) people need to err on the side of caution.

Fear appeals can be effective in achieving persuasive goals, but their effectiveness depends on a variety of factors, including features of the message and the target audience. Important factors include the severity of the perceived threat in relation to what the person believes can be done to cope with the threat.

Adherence to the guidelines presented in a fear-evoking message is expected to occur if (1) the threat is perceived as severe, (2) an effective coping response is to be available, and (3) the person believes he is capable of executing an effective coping response.

Sometimes fear appeals can be counterproductive. Telling people that they are at risk of contracting a disease increases their vigilance to disease cues. This can increase the chance of correctly identifying infection and taking appropriate action. But it also increases the chance that people will misinterpret benign bodily sensations as indications of disease and therefore become unduly anxious and needlessly seek medical attention and potentially over-taxing the healthcare system.

A distinction also must be made between monitors and blunters with respect to fear-evoking messages. Monitors are actively seeking information, whereas blunters tend to disregard the messages they do hear. Fear evoking messages are effective in conveying the seriousness of the risk. In contrast, blunters are more likely to distract themselves from such messages. Blunters may benefit from messages that involve logical appeals, which were less likely to trigger avoidance than fear-evoking messages.

Psychological distance also influences perceived risk.

Spatial distance. This is the physical proximity of the disease to the person.
Temporal distance. This refers to two temporal parameters: How soon the threat might arrive, and the temporal origin or newness of the threat. The greater the newness, the greater the perceived threat.
Social distance. This is defined by the nature of social relationships. The closer the people, the greater the fear.
Probability distance. The perceived probability of an event is influenced by a range of factors, including the cognitive process known as the availability heuristic (Tversky & Kahneman). That is, the greater the ease of recalling something, the greater is the perceived the probability of occurring in the future. Consistent with this, research conducted by White and his colleagues found that the frequency with which a person encounters a virus’s names associated with greater perceived danger.

Conspiracy Theories

April 25, 2020

This is the seventh post in a series of posts on a highly relevant book by Steven Taylor, Ph.D., The Psychology of Pandemics. The subtitle of this book is Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease. The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in that book.

What is unique and ironic about the coronavirus epidemic is that it was spread the President of the United States, Donald Trump, and echoed by his propaganda network, Fox News. The claim was that the coronavirus pandemic was a hoax, false news, being spread by the Democrats to defeat Trump in the November election. Doing this plus not doing the activities that needed to be done to defeat the virus, did inestimable damage not just to the health of the country, but to the entire country. So the conspiracy was caused by a narcissistic President, who is paranoid, and is rarely in touch with reality.

As for typical conspiracies, Dr. Taylor offers the following possibilities:

Suspiciousness, magical thinking, and the tendency to believe in the paranormal.
Narcissism (an inflated view of oneself that requires external validation) and the need to feel unique that can be fulfilled by believing that one has special knowledge about conspiracies.
Worry about one’s health and mortality, for people who believe in medical conspiracy theories.
Gullibility, lower media literacy (poorer ability to critically analyze the source and contents of news stories as indicated, for example, by the tendency to believe in fake news), lower intelligence, lower education, and poorer skills in analytical thinking.
Rejection of conventional scientific findings or theories (the theory of evolution) in favor of pseudoscience (the belief that prayer is effective in curing terminal disease).

The Behavioral Immune System

April 24, 2020

This is the sixth post in a series of posts on a highly relevant book by Steven Taylor, Ph.D., The Psychology of Pandemics. The subtitle of this book is Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease. The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in that book. The concept of the behavioral immune system (BIS) focuses on basic motivational aspects of disease avoidance, whereby emotional states such as disgust are important. The concept of BIS provides important insights into the social consequences of disease avoidance mechanisms.

PVD is assessed by the Perceived Vulnerability to Disease Scale (PVDS), which consists of two correlated dimensions: (1) Perceived vulnerability to infection disease (perceived infectability), and (2) avoidance and discomfort in situations in which a person is liable to be infected. The PVDS is a short (5-item) questionnaire that has performed well on tests of reliability and validity. Consequently it is a promising means of identifying people at risk for adverse emotional reactions in response to the threat of pandemic infection.

The BIS is especially useful in understanding societal reactions to the threat of infection, particularly discrimination against out-groups (foreigners) and people who appear to be in poor health or appear to have been associated with an infectious agent. As predicted by the concept of the BIS, when threatened with infection, people may react with xenophobia and may stigmatize particular groups. Stigma and discrimination can be an added source of distress to people struggling to cope with pandemic infection.

The author states that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can reduce PVD. As has been suggested in previous posts meditation provides another technique for reducing a person’s stress proneness and negative emotions. There are many healthy memory posts on meditation. Just enter “meditation” in the search block at

There are many posts on “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.” that can be extremely. Just enter this title into the search block referenced above.

Also enter “mindfulness” to learn of other beneficial posts.

Cognitive-Behavioral Models of Health Anxiety

April 23, 2020

This is the fifth post in a series of posts on a highly relevant book by Steven Taylor, Ph.D., The Psychology of Pandemics. The subtitle of this book is Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease. Health anxiety refers to the tendency to be alarmed by illness-related stimuli. It ranges on a continuum from mild to severe, and it can be a state or trait. A trait is a relatively enduring tendency.

Some people have very low levels of health anxiety. This lack of concern about health risks can be maladaptive. Excessively low health concerns can be associated with unrealistic optimism bias. People unconcerned about infection tend to neglect to perform recommended hygienic behaviors, such as washing their hands and tend to be non adherent to social distancing.

Excessively high health anxiety is characterized by undue anxiety or worry about one’s health, meaning a disproportionate concern given one’s objective level of health. Compared to less anxious people, people with excessively high levels of health anxiety tend to become unduly alarmed by all kinds of perceived threats and overestimate the likelihood and seriousness of becoming ill.

Excessive health anxiety is common, with an estimated lifetime prevalence of 6% in the community. Cognitive-behavioral models propose that excessive anxiety about one’s health is triggered by the misinterpretation of health-related stimuli including: (1) bodily changes or sensations which may or may not be indications of disease (fatigue, muscle aches), (2) direct health-related observations of other people (observing other people coughing or sneezing, or observing others becoming alarmed about being ill), (3) more abstract forms of health-related information, such as warnings from one’s doctor, advice from friends or family members, and information from social and mass media.

Interpretations of health-related stimuli are influenced by memory processes such as recollection of past experiences, and by long-standing beliefs. Learning experiences, such as being hospitalized as a child, can lead some people to mistakenly believe that their health is fragile. People with excessive health anxiety tend to believe that all bodily sensations or bodily changes are potential signs of disease. In a survey of American college students conducted in the early stages of the 2009 Swine flu pandemic, 25% wrongly believed that Swine flu could be transmitted via water sources, 18% wrongly believed that Swine flu could be spread by insect bites, and 9% wrongly believed that Swine flu could be transmitted by eating cooked pork.

Selective attention to bodily states is influenced not only by internal factors, but also by external stimuli. People are more likely to detect bodily sensations if they are in environments in which there are few or no distractions, as compared to an environment with numerous stimuli the attract the person’s attention.

People’s interpretations influence whether or not they seek treatment, and whether they seek appropriate treatment. People can hold erroneous beliefs about what is an effective treatment. Some people believe that they only need symptomatic relief, which may be insufficient if the underlying disease needs to be treated.

Cognitive-behavior models suggest that excessive health anxiety can be addressed by targeting dysfunctional beliefs and maladaptive behaviors. Consequently, people need to be well read on the causes of these dysfunctional beliefs and maladaptive behaviors.

Psychological Reactions to Pandemics

April 21, 2020

This is the third post in a series of posts on a highly relevant book by Steven Taylor, Ph.D., The Psychology of Pandemics. The subtitle of this book is Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease. Stevens writes that contemporary methods for managing pandemics are largely behavioral or educational interventions, vaccination adherence programs, hygienic practices, social distancing, in which psychological factors play a vital role. “Excessive emotional distress associated with threatened or actual infection is a further issue of clinical and public health significance. Psychological factors are also relevant for understanding and addressing the socially disruptive behavioral patterns that can arise as a result of widespread, serious infection.”

During this pandemic many people are becoming fearful, some intensely so. The psychological “footprint” will likely be larger than the medical “footprint”. So it is likely that the psychological effects will be more pronounced, more widespread, and longer-lasting than the purely somatic effects of infection. In the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak, the “epidemic of fear” was worse than the epidemic itself in terms of the number of people affected. Excessive public fear of Ebola arose in the United States even though there was little or no risk of contagion.

People differ in how they react to psychosocial stressors such as the fear of a pandemic. Reactions are diverse, ranging from fear to indifference to fatalism. At one end of the spectrum, some people disregard or deny risks, and fail to engage in recommended health behaviors such as hygiene and social distancing. At the other end of the spectrum, many people react with intense anxiety or fear. A moderate level of fear or anxiety can motivate people to cope with health threats, but severe distress can be debilitating.

Mental disorder can be triggered or exacerbated by pandemic-related stressors, including mood disorder, anxiety disorders, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As a pandemic unfolds, some people adapt to the threat and become less anxious. But in some cases the psychological effects can be severe and long-lasting. Research on the SARS outbreak showed that the psychological effects are not always short-lived, and the emotional reactions can be severe and persistent. A longitudinal study found that 44% of SARS patients developed PTSD. In a survey of Beijing hospital workers during the SARs outbreak, about 10% developed PTSD symptoms. Respondents who had been quarantined, worked at high-risk sites such as SARS wards, or had friends to close relatives who contracted were 2-3 times more likely to have PTSD symptoms than people without these exposures.

For many SARS patients, psychological distress, including PTSD, persisted after the infection had been treated, in some cases for years after patients had recovered from the physical effects of the SARS virus. What made SARS especially distressing was that it was (1) a novel infection with an unknown course and treatment, (2) infection was managed with social isolation, and (3) there were fears of spreading this poorly understood infection to others. These results raise concerns about the long-term psychological consequences of the current coronavirus pandemic.

There are immunologically induced psychological reactions. These are psychological reactions that are the direct physiological consequence of infection. People infected by viral or bacterial agents may experience a syndrome called sickness behavior. Symptoms include nausea, fatigue, sleep disturbance, depression, irritability, and mild cognitive impairment. This sickness behavior is triggered by pro inflammatory cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha, interleukin-6, and interleukin-1beta. Immune reactions can involve neuroinflammation, which may lead to sickness behavior.

Research in the field of psychoneuroimmunology has shown that negative emotions and stressful events can lead to some degree of suppression of the immune system, thereby enhancing susceptibility to infection and dampening the beneficial effects of vaccines. A series of studies has shown that immune responses to viral and bacterial vaccines, including influenza vaccines, are delayed, substantially weakened, or shorter-loved in people who are distressed or exposed to stressors. These effects tend to be greater in people who are prone to experience frequent negative moods. Stressors and negative emotions have been found to influence the production of lymphocytes and pro inflammatory cytokines. Pandemic-related stressors may compromise the immune system, thereby making people more vulnerable to infections.

Even if pandemic-related stress and distress do significantly dampen the immune system, psychological interventions such as cognitive based therapy can reduce a person’s stress proneness and negative emotions, thereby offsetting any stress-related immunosuppression.

Meditation provides another technique for reducing a person’s stress proneness and negative emotions. There are many healthy memory posts on meditation. Just enter “meditation” in the search block at

There are many posts on “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.” that can helpful. Just enter this title into the search block referenced above.

The Psychology of Pandemics

April 19, 2020

The title of this book is identical to the title of a highly relevant book by Steven Taylor, Ph.D. The subtitle of this book is Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease. Steven Taylor is a Professor and Clinical Psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia.

The first chapter begins, “Pandemic influenza is one of the leading health threats currently facing the world. The rise of antimicrobial resistance, along with the emergence of new, highly pathogenic viral strains has fueled fears of another global outbreak disease. [Obviously this book was written before the outbreak of the pandemic we are suffering at the time of the writing of this post]. For pandemics in general, the causal elements are manifold and complex. The essential elements are an infectious agent, a host (e.g., a person), and the environment. The host’s resistance as well as psychological factors that influence how the host copes with or reacts to the threatened or actual infection. Environmental factors are numerous and multiform, including factors that promote or hamper the coping strategies of the host.”

Pandemics are large-scale epidemics that afflict millions of people across multiple countries, and sometimes spread throughout the globe. For a virus or bacterium to cause a pandemic it must be an organism for which most people do not have a preexisting immunity, that is easily transmitted from person to person, causing severe illness. Diseases causing pandemics are part of a group of conditions known as emerging infectious diseases, which include newly identified pathogens as well as reemerging ones.

The author writes, “Pandemics are events in which the population’s psychological reactions play an essential role in both the spreading and containment of the disease, and influence the extent to which widespread emotional distress and social disorder occur. When threatened with infection, people vary widely in their reactions. The complexities of their reactions need to be taken into consideration in order to understand the psychology of pandemics.”

He continues, “Pandemics are usually viral in nature, typically arising from animal influenza viruses that spread to humans. It is difficult to predict when the next influenza pandemic will occur.’ He then cites the following passage by Morens, Taubenberger, Folkers, & Fauci in 2010. ‘Despite continuing progress in many areas including enhanced human and animal surveillance and large-scale viral genomic screening, we are probably no better able today to anticipate and prevent the emergence of pandemic influenza than 5 centuries ago, as shown by the completely unexpected emergence of the 2009 novel H1N1 pandemic virus.’

The following passage by Laver & Webster clearly anticipated the current crisis: “The world’s population would have no immunity to this ‘new’ virus. Because of today’s crowded conditions with modern rapid transportation facilities, the epidemic would spread like wildfire, reaching every corner of the globe. Many millions of people would become ill and there would certainly be many deaths. “ The frequent genetic mutation and genetic reassortment of influenza viruses make it difficult, if not impossible, to prevent influenza pandemics from occurring.

From a psychology perspective there are many pandemic-related stressors. Dr. Taylor writes, “Pandemics are frequently marked by uncertainty, confusion, and a sense of urgency. Prior to, or in the early states of a pandemic, there is widespread uncertainty about the odds and seriousness of becoming infected, along with uncertainty, and possible information, about the best methods of prevention and management. Uncertainty may persist well into the pandemic, especially concerning the question of whether a pandemic is truly over. Pandemics can come in waves. Waves of infection are caused, in part, by fluctuations in patterns of human aggregation, such as seasonal movements of people away from and then into contact with one another, as well as other fluctuations in social aggregation. The Spanish flu, for example, came in three waves. Accordingly, there may be uncertainty as to whether a pandemic has truly run its course.”

Dr. Taylor continues, “Pandemics are associated with a score of psychosocial stressors, including health threats to oneself and loved ones. There may be severe disruptions of routines, separations from family and friends, shortages of food and medicine, wage loss, social isolation due to quarantine or other social distancing programs, and school closure. Families may become malnourished if no one in the house is well enough to shop or cook. Socioeconomic factors definitely play a role. Personal financial hardship can occur if a family’s primary wage earner is unable to work because of illness [or social distancing and being unable to work from home]. During the Spanish flu, for example, merchants suffered hardship because of staff absenteeism and because shoppers were either too ill or too frightened to venture out to the stores. The personal financial impact of a pandemic can be as severe and stressful as the infection itself, especially for people who are already experiencing financial hardship.”

There are very large effects on the healthcare system that border on if not causing the system to collapse. Special equipment, such as ventilators, come into a large demand never experienced in nominal conditions. The economic costs range from at least a recession, and, more likely, a depression.

Human networks are the major means of pandemic disease transmission. Influenza is readily spread by inhaling airborne cough or sneeze droplets, and by touching one’s mouth, nose, or eyes after touching formites. Some people disproportionately contribute to the spreading of infection. These people are known as super spreaders. In a prototypic case as few as 20% of infected people may be responsible for 80% of the transmissions. A super spreader is likely to be someone who (1) is not immunized or immunocomprimised and therefore particularly susceptible to infection. (2) does no engaging in basic hygiene (e.g., covering coughs) and therefore likely to transmit influenza, (3) comes into contact with a great many people, through some combination of their social and occupational roles.