This is a psychology paper which discusses the relationship between prejudice and protection from diseases. This is an investigative paper that seeks to justify the argument made by Huang, Sedlovskaya, Ackerman and Bargh in the year 2011 that ‘prejudice evolved to protect us from disease and be reduced with public health measures’. The paper seeks to justify this statement by borrowing from their research and findings.
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The introductory part of the paper gives a conceptual foundation of the statement. It explains the context in which the authors founded this statement. The next section of the paper gives an overview and a psychological explanation of the origin of the concept of protection from diseases and prejudice about diseases and disease protection. The last section of the paper looks into the studies conducted to justify the statement and the findings or justifications.
Interpersonal biases in the present-day society emanate from psychosomatic mechanisms. These mechanisms have developed, and they safeguard people from the threats of being infected by transmissible diseases. By way of behaviour, the immune system of people not only promotes the avoidance of diseases but also leads to more generalized prejudices towards the populace that does not contain legitimate disease carriers. This hypothesis was tested using three studies. In all the studies, tests explained whether the two vital contemporary forms of disease protection reduce the relationship between disease concerns by the population and bias against the out-groups. The two disease protection methods used in the studies are hand washing and vaccination (Huang, Sedlovskaya, Ackerman & Bargh, 2011).
Overview of prejudice and disease protection
An evolutionary perspective of disease showed that prejudice has a high likelihood of characterizing interpersonal judgments from the genesis of human history. This is considered to be a social affliction. Therefore, public health interventions for instance immunizations are proposed to help in the reduction of the spread of physical illnesses and also prejudice which is considered a social malady (Neuberg, Kenrick & Schaller, 2011).
Throughout the course, human beings’ evolution, pathogens, and other microorganisms that cause diseases were the main hindrances for human beings to survive. Thus, people developed behavioural mechanisms for protecting themselves from diseases and disease-causing organisms. As diseases can be transmitted without intension – through contact with the infected people, people have extremely high sensitivity to the morphological and behavioural cues associated with diseases. Exposure to the cues can divert attention, produce negative evaluations. It also affects personality profiles and elicits avoidance behaviours of those who perceive others to be having diseases.
The changes in perceptions thence changes in behaviour can result in a measure of immunity which is indirect as they lessen the possibility of contact and the transmission of diseases. Also, the disease avoidance mechanisms developed by humans act as a basis for broader prejudices. The cost that follows the failure to identify an individual with a contagious infection is exceptionally high as compared to the cost of misidentifying an individual who is unhealthy – a career. Also, the mechanism of avoiding diseases in some cases reaches people who are not the legitimate causes of diseases (Huang, Sedlovskaya, Ackerman & Bargh, 2011).
An example is the chronic perceptions of disease vulnerability, which predict attitudes towards the targeted people who have satisfactory health conditions – noncontagious; for instance, people who have obesity and those with a physical disability. The negative attitudes are also directed towards certain social groups within the population who are not familiar or who do not go as per the cultural practices of the population, for example, the gays and lesbians and the immigrants. At this level, even the mere exposure to the disease-causing pathogens can spark an overgeneralized perception (Guimón, 2010).
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Women tend to show elevated attitudes that can be described as xenophobic and ethnocentric during the earlier stages of pregnancy, which is when the fetus is more vulnerable to diseases. Therefore, prejudices, which seem to be pernicious in modern times, can be linked to the functioning of a system which evolved to protect the human body from maladies. However, in contemporary society, the methods of protecting oneself from diseases are no longer restricted to the first order early disease threat identification and social avoidance. For instance, the 1900 century has seen the eradication of many diseases using vaccinations (Huang, Sedlovskaya, Ackerman & Bargh, 2011).
As it is in the health sector today, vaccinations have continued to be vital in the provision of effective interventions against diseases, for instance, influenza and other diseases which are highly contagious and infectious like measles. Research also reveals that other public health campaigns, for example, hand washing are used in preventing the spread of contagious and or infectious diseases. Technological advancement has made the public health interventions have the potentiality of preventing the spreading of diseases, as well as quelling prejudices that are associated with behavioural immune systems. If the seeming physical dangers of contagions are eliminated, it thus follows that the mental reactions, which are often associated with the threats related to a disease, will also be eliminated (Huang, Sedlovskaya, Ackerman & Bargh, 2011).
Research and conclusion
Previous research revealed that there is a deep concern about diseases, especially so when there are prejudicial attitudes about the out-group members. For example, people who are more exposed to the threats of a given disease often express negative attitudes about foreign out-groups as compared to the people who have not had the exposure ton disease threats. The study was conducted in the year 2009 when there were cases of the swine flu – H1N1 virus.
The respondents were allowed to read a passage and give their view on the perception of the H1N1 vaccine. The findings of this first research indicated that people who were vaccinated against the disease had lower perception as compared to those who had not been vaccinated. The participants who had not been primed with any threat of disease had no prejudices about the disease and the vaccine. The participants who were not vaccinated, who had been primed with the threat of the disease; had significant levels of prejudice as compared to the participants who had not been vaccinated and or primed about the disease.
The perception of people about the effectiveness of the vaccines predicts their acceptance of vaccines. The results of this study indicate that exposure to the threat relating to disease results from the rise in anti-immigrant prejudice (Huang, Sedlovskaya, Ackerman & Bargh, 2011).
The second study’s results indicated that the perception of protection from maladies which are subjective could impact on attitudes towards the out-groups among the immunized group. When the threat of disease is salient, proposing vaccination against that disease results in concerns amongst the population who become chronically concerned about the dangers of disease transmission and the rise in prejudice against out-groups. However, when vaccination is framed in terms of its protective function has different results. It eliminates the interaction between prejudice and the aversion of the disease, causing pathogens (Huang, Sedlovskaya, Ackerman & Bargh, 2011). When the results are combined, they indicate that vaccination eliminates prejudice more so when the population is adequately educated about the vaccines.
Guimón, J. (2010). Prejudice and Realities in Stigma. International Journal Of Mental Health, 39(3), 20-43.
Huang, J., Sedlovskaya, A., Ackerman, J., & Bargh, J. (2011). Immunizing against prejudice: Effects of disease prevention on attitudes toward out-groups. Psychological Science, 22(12), pp,1550-1556.
Neuberg, S. L., Kenrick, D. T., & Schaller, M. (2011). Human threat management systems: Self-protection and disease avoidance. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 35(4), 1042-1051. Web.