Disease-Avoiding Behaviour Leads To Rise Of Authoritarianism, Finds Study

Table of Contents What causes infected places to lean towards authoritarianism?How were these conclusions reached?

It’s abundantly clear now that the outbreak of an infectious disease and how it is handled by local authorities carries a lot of weight for the election cycle that follows. Now, scientists have found that just like our protective immune system, our behavioural immune system also works similarly. Societies with a higher rate of infectious diseases tend to support authoritative measures, the study found.

What causes infected places to lean towards authoritarianism?

The behavioural immune systems instills a sense of fear and makes human beings avoid others to stay free of disease, as witnessed during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

While such behaviour is great for preventing further outbreak of COVID-19, it also cause authoritarian politics to take shape, scientists claim, while calling it “parasite stress”. 


Chinese President Xi Jinping | Reuters

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The fresh study explores the relationship between infection rates in certain cities and the shades of authoritarianism that follow. Undertaken by Cambridge University, the research was done before the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Psychologists at Cambridge claim that people in places with high infection rates of any disease develop a public desire to ensure “conformity and obedience”. This has a vast trickle-down effect, they add, rupturing the growth of liberal and all-inclusive policies and ideas. 

North Korea
North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un | Reuters

How were these conclusions reached?

Published in the Journal of Social and Political Psychology, scientists assessed data correlating to infectious diseases between 1990s and 2000s. In addition, they took into account responses to a survey that saw response from 206,000 people between 2017 and 2018. 

Their most important observation was how cities that had a higher rate of infectious diseases eventually started leaning more towards authoritarianism.

The findings from US were recreated at an international level with 51,000 respondents across 47 countries. 

Philippines President Duterte
Philippines President Duterte | Reuters

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The researchers found that most US states with high rates of infectious diseases like HIV and measles were four times higher in terms of authoritarian outlook. In terms of countries with diseases, the desire for authoritative tendencies was three times higher. 

Do you think infectious diseases and pandemics play a key role in shaping public policy and politics? Discuss in the comments below.

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