Recent evidence suggests the existence of a human behavioral immune system that helps identify and minimize exposure to disease threats. Although past research has identified a number of physical and visual cues that can activate the behavioral immune system, in the current investigation, we explore the possibility that this system can be triggered by subtle psychological cues. Specifically, we posit that the psychological proximity between the self and a disease threat signals potential danger, and that, as such, a diverse set of psychological distance dimensions (e.g., spatial, temporal, social, and probability distances) can influence the perception of threat. In four studies, we illustrate how both explicit and subtle cues of closeness along these distance dimensions affect the social cognitive processes involved in perceiving and reacting to disease threats. Together, these findings have implications for how government officials, the media, and the general public communicate about the threat of emerging infectious diseases.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Social Psychology
- Developmental and Educational Psychology