The Psychology of Pandemics: Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease by Steven Taylor, published in 2019.
I am taking a detour from my research on AI and pandemics to introduce the above book. I have not seen it covered elsewhere.
We often talk about predictive programming in fiction — movies, TV shows, novels … rarely do we discuss predictive programming in non-fiction — in reality. In this sense, this book reads like a playbook for this current pandemic, the psychological operation, or psyop.
I do not recommend that anyone pay money for this book. It is a waste of time. I dedicate my time to researching this type of overt propaganda; I consider it my duty to report on it. Think of the money and time I am saving you!
The foreword of the book is written by Jonathan S. Abramowitz, Ph.D. See below for citations, but here is the abstract on a paper he co-authored.
Abstract: The tendency to overestimate threat is among the key transdiagnostic cognitive processes that play a role in the maintenance of clinical anxiety. This chapter defines the phenomenon and discusses its particular role in the persistence of inappropriate fear. It considers the assessment of threat overestimation and provides an overview of how this process manifests itself and addresses in clinical treatment across the diverse landscape of anxiety-related problems. The overestimation of threat may take a variety of forms, including the tendency to catastrophically miscalculate the probability of negative events, misjudge the presumed severity of adverse outcomes, misinterpret the behavior of others as signs of negative evaluation, and inflate the importance of unwanted thoughts.
I am a trained psychotherapist. I received my MS.Ed. in Counseling from an Ivy League university more than 25 years ago. In my opinion, the fear of this unproven “novel” virus that has spread around the globe is a prime example of “overestimation of threat”. In fact, I would “diagnose” this fear as catastrophizing.
Catastrophizing has been defined by Harvard-trained, board certified psychiatrist, Dr. Melissa Welby, as the following:**
Catastrophizing thoughts are generally not based on current reality but future projections related to worry thoughts. Catastrophizing anxiety thoughts aren’t productive projections and don’t cause you to improve your future. It’s energy wasted and not energy spent on improving life. And projections associated with anxiety are never positive.
…and then defined here by psychoanalyst, Michael Schreiner, of Seattle, WA:***
Catastrophizing is the faulty thinking pattern where the worst case scenario, which exists only in imagination, is transformed into a supposedly objective fact. When people are catastrophizing, they act as if that catastrophic outcome had already occurred so for all intents and purposes it has.
Does this sound familiar? It certainly does not take a therapist to see this is a mental disorder that has been foisted upon all of society, emanating from self-designated controllers who control the world governments and world media. Ironically, these two therapists I mentioned just happen to be perpetuating online the fear of an invisible threat that has been represented primarily through future projections and worst case scenarios. Go figure…
The author, Steven Taylor, PhD. is Professor and Clinical Psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. His research and clinical work focuses on mood and anxiety (including Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) disorders. Is this book a how-to in creating anxiety and OCD on a global scale?
Interestingly, most of the book was dedicated to addressing two main issues, from the perspective of the author: Nonadherence – to both vaccination and social distancing (the word nonadherence in this context was mentioned 13 times) and conspiracy theories (mentioned a whopping 96 times!). The author considers vaccination nonadherence a “behavioral problem” and a “psychological problem”, as well as a “self-defeating behavior.”
Just as a side note: Anthony Fauci was mentioned six times in reference to his studies on pandemics.
There is mention of “contaminated banknotes” and of course, “superspreaders”(meaning those who are asymptomatic), with reference to the most famous “superspreader”, “Typhoid Mary”.
One of the main concerns of the author are rumors and distrust in authorities, and that is why he says that the World Health Organization, during a pandemic, follows certain guidelines. One of these guidelines is to announce the outbreak early, “even with incomplete information, so as to “minimize the spread of rumors and misinformation.” Taylor also explains that the WHO evaluates the impact of communication programs (AKA propaganda) to ensure that their messages are “being correctly understood and that the advice is being followed.” OK, so they need to assess how effective their propaganda is.
When speaking about “hygiene practices,” the author mentions wearing facemasks, and of course, frequent handwashing! Taylor claims that facemasks were widely used during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 and were mandated by law in many places at that time.
Taylor discusses the practice of social distancing, and that people can gain social contact and support from social media. He expresses concern that some governments may undermine social distancing measures and “downplay the danger” to “avoid the damaging effects that infectious outbreaks have on foreign trade and on public anxiety”.
Notably, the author states that “the psychological ‘footprint’ will likely be larger than the medical ‘footprint’,” in the event of a pandemic. He points out that during the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak, the “epidemic of fear” was worse than the epidemic itself.
About a quarter way through the book, he addresses the possibility of food shortages due to hoarding and the “rapid evaporation of just-in-time inventories,” and that this may create some of the most “grievous consequences of a global pandemic.”
Taylor refers to studies involving how people differ in their way of seeking or avoiding information about potential health threats. It is quite intriguing how he describes the nature of “risk communication” in the media. He distinguishes between two cognitive styles – monitoring vs. blunting. Those who “monitor” tend to collect information and scan for cues to health threats. Conversely, those who “blunt” tend to get distracted and minimize threatening information. Apparently, researchers measure these reactions with the Monitor-Blunter Style Scale. Who knew?! They have got a psychological assessment for everything these days!
Of course, the author points out that “blunters” are “at risk for ignoring important health-related threats and failing to take precautionary measures.” Clearly, I would fall into this category according to their scale! They seem to be more concerned about how to reach this category through their “risk communication” measures.
The main concern, though, of the author is the issue of conspiracy theories. He has a whole chapter dedicated to this. He states, “During the next pandemic, we can expect to see the emergence of various conspiracy theories about the source or cause of the infectious agent and about the vaccines (if available) used to treat it. …“Conspiracy theories attempt to explain the causes of significant events by claiming they are due to secret plots by powerful actors.” Taylor goes on to describe methods for reducing conspiratorial thinking. He says that research suggests that “people can be inoculated against conspiracy theories by being exposed to arguments that refute conspiracy theories before the person is exposed to pro-conspiracy arguments.” He laments that “once the belief in a conspiracy theory is firmly established, it can be difficult to correct.”
Halfway through the book, Taylor discusses how beliefs and fears spread through social networks. According to Taylor, “Information transmission and observational learning are particularly relevant to the spread of beliefs and fears through social networks.” So, essentially, again, Taylor is concerned about how to most effectively propagandize. He discusses what was most effective in previous epidemics.
Taylor states very clearly that “infections that are described as novel…and continuously reported in the media will increase the perceived threat of infection. BINGO! This has indeed worked brilliantly! He continues that “the government must help the public to ‘visualize’ what a bad pandemic might be like.” Yeah, been there done that…Most important, he says, is that “people are more likely to be swayed in their opinions if they are presented with vivid narratives or case examples, as compared to bland statistics about risk.”
We’ve seen plenty of these stories, haven’t we?
Significantly, he addresses how social media might be more effectively used for “health promotion” during a pandemic. He notes that imposed censorship of “misleading information” would likely contribute to the spread of conspiracy theories. He suggests that misleading health information be “tagged” to indicate that it is questionable and unverified. Of course, we are seeing this play out online on a grand scale.
Taylor emphasizes that research is needed to “evaluate the effectiveness of risk communication (AKA propaganda) on people who adhere to conspiracy theories. The author expresses consternation over the fact that there is evidence that “some ‘vaccination skeptical’ websites may be more effective in their methods of communication than pro-vaccination websites,” and that they were “more effective in fostering community building”.
Hmmm. I wonder why that is?
He is also concerned about people who may feel that their autonomy and freedom of choice is being threatened. He said those people are exhibiting “psychological reactance”. So, his term for those of us who want to assert our freedom and feel a “perceived threat” (such as mandatory vaccination) is not only derogatory, it implies, again, a psychological disorder.
Did you know that the WHO in 2019 identified “vaccine hesitancy” as one of the top ten global health threats?
Taylor concludes with this prescient statement: “There will be widespread uncertainty after the pandemic has passed. For some time after, people will wonder whether the pandemic has truly passed or whether the next wave is about to arrive.”
When will the controllers install their next wave of fear? Only time (or their algorithms) will tell…
*Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Abramowitz, Jonathan S. Blakey, Shannon M.Citation: Abramowitz, J. S., & Blakey, S. M. (2020). Overestimation of threat. In J. S. Abramowitz & S.
- Blakey (Eds.), Clinical handbook of fear and anxiety: Maintenance processes and treatment mechanisms (p. 7–25). American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/
**Dr. Melissa Welby, Catastrophizing Anxiety
***Michael Schreiner, What is Catastrophizing?