Infectious Disease Information and Emotional Responses

by Megan Tan

Figure 1: Infectious diseases not only physically harm the people who are affected, but they elicit responses from people who hear and see about those affected.


Infectious disease outbreaks cause individuals to react differently in response to this kind of emotional news. Professor Scott Clifford and Professor Jennifer Jerit, from the Department of Political Science at the University of Houston and Loyola University respectively, research two of these reactions to infectious disease outbreaks: disgust and anxiety.

In the first study, a questionnaire was distributed to three sample groups: students at a large state university, non-student adults who worked in or near a university, and Amazon Mechanical Turk workers. The participants were asked to answer background questions on their attitudes towards public health policy and to read a brief description on new public health issues. The participants were then asked to answer questions about their levels of anxiety and disgust. A similar study was done online through YouGov in which participants read articles regarding the spread of diseases and then answered questions pertaining to their emotional states thereafter.

From Professor Clifford and Jerit’s study, it was concluded that anxiety is a general reaction to a personal threat, while disgust is a response to graphic detail regarding the symptoms of diseases. In general, different information elicited different responses. Anxiety usually spurs the search for more information, while disgusts causes the unwillingness to learn more of it.



  1. S. Clifford, J. Jerit, Disgust, Anxiety, and the Public’s Response to Health Threats. (2016).
  2. Image retrieved from:….0…1ac.1.64.img..1.20.789.gGetUhLAVeM#imgrc=4DIe6jaiLnjnAM%3A

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