A Coordinated Response

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A Coordinated Response
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By Jim Logan, UC Santa Barbara

After the Ebola virus tore through western Africa in 2015, two UC Santa Barbara researchers studied the xenophobia the disease generated among people who had almost zero chance of being infected by it.

Heejung S. Kim and David K. Sherman, professors in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, discovered that the more people felt vulnerable to Ebola the more xenophobic they became, not only supporting restrictive policies, such as travel bans, but also increasing prejudice toward outgroup members. Their degree of xenophobic response to the perceived threat of Ebola, however, was directly influenced by how individualistic or collectivistic they were.

In short, a person who is individualistic is more likely to have stronger xenophobic reactions when he or she feels highly vulnerable to a pathogen like Ebola than someone who is collectivistic, or more oriented toward group goals. The researchers’ paper, “Fear of Ebola: The Influence of Collectivism on Xenophobic Threat Responses,” was published in the journal Psychological Science. John A. Updegraff of Kent State University was a co-author.

The coronavirus pandemic, naturally, piqued Kim and Sherman’s interest. It seems that countries that are generally collectivistic or individualistic tend to have different responses to disease outbreaks.

“Social coordination is a way to cope,” Sherman said, “and an effective coping means. We’re seeing that in China’s response and in Korea’s response as well as in Taiwan and in Singapore — the massive social coordination, which may be associated with being in more of a collectivistic culture. So that was one thing that struck us.”

China, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore are collectivist societies, the scholars noted, and one of the variables they studied after the Ebola outbreak was what they call “protection efficacy” — the feeling that one could protect oneself from the virus. What they found was that collectivism seemed to be associated with a great sense of protection efficacy.

“When we measure protection efficacy, we measure it at three levels,” Kim said. “One is personal sense of efficacy, and the other one community, how much they feel like community can protect themselves. The third level was how much you feel like a country can protect itself.

“It seems like collectivistic people,” she continued, “especially in the face of a perceived risk, tend to have a higher sense of efficacy, meaning that my group will do something to protect me or my community. And those protective processes are coordinated and work together.”

The Ebola outbreak and the COVID-19 pandemic are clearly different phenomena. Ebola was a threat that by and large existed on another continent, while the coronavirus has already shut down large swathes of American society. One shared response to both is xenophobia, the researchers said.

“Coronavirus is here and more people are probably infected than the current statistics indicate. We just don’t know because of the lack of testing,” Sherman said.

“And if coronavirus is already within our community, social distancing makes sense, but xenophobia does not,” Kim said. “It’s primarily psychological protection, not actual protection at this point.”

Sherman noted that when the World Health Organization announced that the coronavirus was pandemic, WHO officials cited two countries that were responding well to the crisis: China and South Korea. Those collectivistic societies, along with other collectivistic societies such as Taiwan and Singapore that have mounted coordinated efforts, he said, could serve as response models for the U.S., no matter how different they might be.

“You could see the social coordination that was required within the society,” he said. “And those are collectivistic societies. I think the difficult but important thing is for the United States to recognize and adopt best practices, using strategies that may not come as easily in more individualistic cultures, but may be effective.”

“Being individualistic means that people are socially and psychologically isolated at times,” Kim added. “It is interesting that we use the term ‘social distancing’ in the U.S. In Taiwan, people call the exactly same recommended social behavior ‘physical distancing.’ While the practical benefits of such behaviors are clear, now is the time to remind ourselves that we are merely physically distancing ourselves, and that more than ever, we should get socially closer as a community.”


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a-1585760066 Apr 01, 2020 09:54 AM
A Coordinated Response

In hindsight, hobbling, tripping, and getting in the way of the president since before his first day in office and holding the country hostage wasn't such a good thing to do. It really is backfiring on us all now in a deadly way.

a-1585765443 Apr 01, 2020 11:24 AM
A Coordinated Response

RHS: Same thing....move forward and get out of the blame-game biz. Everyone can agree that now is not the time. Let's get out of this mess and save lives. Be positive. Be kind. Stay safe. Namaste.

RHS Apr 01, 2020 11:14 AM
A Coordinated Response

10:56 am--the idea that we cannot understand or comment on the role the Federal government has played in this developing disaster is pretty silly. The leader of that government told us that this was just a flu that would go away in a few days. He said we had tests when they were (and are) months away. He created a black market for ventilators and he engaged in racist blaming and attacks on the media that was trying to inform us of what was happening. He fiddled (actually went out and played golf at his properties instead of studying and planning the threat) and we are burning. I cannot understand why we can't both know these things and work to resolve the problem despite the incompetence we have observed.

a-1585763807 Apr 01, 2020 10:56 AM
A Coordinated Response

SBO: Everyone needs to calm down, and not let the anxiety and anger control our emotions and thoughts. It's like the ship is going down, and everyone is blaming the captain for running into the iceberg. The time to argue and hate is not now. Now is the time to come together and support each other, but not finger point. However, if it makes you feel better to play the blame game, then by all means, blame away, but please keep it real. Namaste.

SantaBarbaraObserver Apr 01, 2020 10:11 AM
A Coordinated Response

Based on this comment I assume you have never once, as in ever, analyzed your past choices... Its not even up for debate any longer: Trump is the worst POTUS in history and is winning the race for the worst politician (possibly person) in history. He will wear that badge for eternity as will his foolish followers. Karma is coming and she doesnt take repentance for payment...

RHS Apr 01, 2020 08:49 AM
A Coordinated Response

The US response, led by the incumbent president, has been to rely on 'free enterprise' models. Private industry was to meet the need, the central government was to hold back and wait for for profit companies to provide needed resources. We were told these resources would also be better than those of 'collective' countries. Of course that has failed and we can only do our best to mitigate the disaster that this course of action has created. Bidding wars for ventilators, delayed and bungled testing kits, inadequate supplies of masks and protective gear for first responders, etc. What we need to understand is that government is necessary and can act quickly and efficiently in times such as these in not fettered by the hobgoblins of mercantile economics. Look at how well the military is doing in providing emergency medical facilities for example.

mp805 Mar 31, 2020 06:10 PM
A Coordinated Response

Im sorry are they praising Chinas response to the Wuhan Virus in this post? I think as time passes history will not be kind to China or the World Health Organization for their initial response in getting out information to the world.

Bird Mar 31, 2020 08:24 PM
A Coordinated Response

Nor will history be kind to the US for being so slow to get activated, to have ready the necessary hospital gear to keep at the very least the health care workers healthy, to have the level of testing of the Covid-19 virus that S. Korea and also China have had so there can be a reasonable knowledge of how many and who are infected and need to be quarantined to protect the others.

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