No.36 Disease Threat, Stereotypes, and Covid–19: An Early View from Malawi and Zambia
Karen E. Ferree, Kristen Kao, Boniface Dulani, Adam S. Harris, Ellen Lust, Cecilia Ahsan Jansson, and Erica Metheney
A growing literature documents Covid–19’s health and economic effects. Can Covid–19 also exacerbate identity divisions? Psychologists argue that contagious disease increases threat perception, provoking policing of group boundaries and discrimination against perceived outsiders. We focus here on a mechanism underlying this work, the emergence of disease-based stereotypes. Employing survey experiments administered over the phone in Malawi (N=4,641) and Zambia (N=2,198) in May-August 2020, we explore how insider/outsider status and symptoms of illness shape perceptions of infection, reported willingness to help, and desire to restrict free movement of an ailing neighbor. We find mixed evidence for outsider stereotypes: Malawians associate the disease more with outsiders; Zambians do not. In both countries, moreover, symptoms more strongly shape perceptions and hypothetical behavior than insider/outsider status, suggesting that objective risk matters more than identities in shaping responses to the illness.
For the latest version see "Symptoms and Stereotypes: Perceptions and Responses to Covid-19 in Malawi and Zambia"