Fear makes the coronavirus worse


Emotions exist for one reason: to help us decide what to do next. They reflect our mind’s predictions for what’s likely to happen in the world and therefore serve as an efficient way to prepare us for it. But when the emotions we feel aren’t correctly calibrated for the threat or when we’re making judgments in domains where we have little knowledge orInformation, our feelings become more likely to lead us astray.

Let me give you an example. In several experiments, my colleagues and I led people to feel sad or angry by having them read a magazine article that described either the impact of a natural disaster on a small town or the details of vehement anti-American protests abroad. Next, we asked them to estimate the frequencies of events that, if they occurred, would typically make people feel sad (for example, the number of people who will have to euthanize a beloved pet this year) or angry (for example, the number of people who will be intentionally sold a “lemon” by a dishonest car dealer this year) — estimates for which people wouldn’t already hold a knowledgeable answer.

Time and again, we found that when the emotion people felt matched the emotional overtones of a future event, their predictions for that event’s frequency increased

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