Human behavior expert addresses Coronavirus panic

Published: Mar. 9, 2020 at 10:57 PM CDT
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A UW-Madison human behavior expert breaks down the psychology of fear behind the Coronavirus worldwide panic.

Amid the recent Coronavirus reports, the department of health services maintains that the risk of getting the virus is low, but the worldwide fear of contracting the virus remains high.

The Coronavirus is spreading and there's currently no vaccine to treat it. Human behavior experts said the panic is human nature.

The trickle effect of Coronavirus is being felt around the world -- from the stock market selloff to the empty grocery store shelves and discrimination fueled by fear.

"It's kind of scary when people are being very xenophobic toward Chinese people. It's hurtful to the community. I've seen people not eating at Chinese restaurants and being rude to Chinese people and that's not okay," Elizabeth Ng, UW-Madison student said.

While some are hoarding supplies and cancelling flights others remain optimistic.

"I feel like as long as you wash your hands and keep your germs to yourself, it won't spread as easily as we think," Brittany Williams, UW-Madison student said

"This is just human psychology. We get scared of things we don't know,” Dominique Brossard, UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communications Chair and Professor said.

She said humans react differently when situations are uncertain or unpredictable.

"Humans we are animals. We have a fear of the unknown. Whenever we know that something is happening that is not controlled or seems like there is uncertainty, we give it a lot of negative weight," she said.

"People are reacting to it like they're expecting. These conditions generally cause mass hysteria which is what we're seeing right now," Abdel Daoud, UW-Madison student said.

Brossard said the uncertainty drives people to make rash decisions like "panic-buying" weeks of supplies to try and gain control of the situation.

"Getting toilet paper or antibacterial soap is not going to solve the issue," she said.

She said an easy fix to reduce fear is learning about the virus and staying up to date with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updates

"Trusting scientific evidence is crucial," Brossard said.

She said if the Coronavirus becomes more severe, public health officials will warn the public before the time comes, but in the meantime, everyone should remain calm.

"We're all in this together. Not panicking is rule No.1 because it doesn't help," Brossard said.