The psychology of pandemics

A selection of complimentary readings

Grafik zum Coronavirus.

In an attempt to help in these unsettling times that are dominated by news – and, sadly, fake news – about coronavirus and the COVID-19 pandemic, our editorial team has put together a selection of peer-reviewed scientific literature for those who want to read some science and look at evidence. We hope you'll find some food for thought in the free access journal articles that we link to below. They cover four broad themes:

  1. Public trust in the face of pandemics and learning from past experience;
  2. How we communicate health information;
  3. The risk of suicide in older adults in epidemics/pandemics; and
  4. Not all adverse events are negative.

We are still here for you – let us get through this together!

1. Public trust in the face of pandemics and learning from past experience

A special section of the journal European Psychologist looked at rebuilding public trust in preparation for the next pandemic in light of the outbreaks of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) 2002–2003, H5N1 (avian influenza) 2005–2006, and the H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic in 2009. Did we succeed?

Bangerter, A. (2014). Editorial: Investigating and rebuilding public trust in preparation for the next pandemic. European Psychologist, 19(1), 1–3.

Qiuyan Liao, J. & Fielding, R. (2014). Uncertain news. European Psychologist, 19(1), 4–12.

Kalichman, S. C. (2014). The psychology of AIDS denialism: Pseudoscience, conspiracy thinking, and medical mistrust. European Psychologist, 19(1), 13–22.

Siegrist, M. & Zingg, A. (2014). The role of public trust during pandemics: Implications for crisis communication. European Psychologist, 19(1), 23–32.

2. How we communicate health information

A special issue of Journal of Media Psychology was devoted to exploring trends in health communication: How can we make sure that health information is communicated well and people can take the appropriate action for their health? Aside from the Editorial, we thought two articles examining the role of social media in conveying health messages would be of particular interest during the corona virus crisis.

Friedrich, B. (2104). Editorial. Trends in health communication. Journal of Media Psychology, 26(1), 1–3.

Peter, C., Rossmann, C., & Keyling, T. (2014). Roles of direct and indirect social information in conveying health messages through social network sites. Journal of Media Psychology, 26(1), 19–28.

Joyce, N., & Harwood, J. (2014). Context and identification in persuasive mass communication.Journal of Media Psychology, 26(1), 50–57.

3. The risk of suicide in older adults during epidemics/pandemics

This article in our journal Crisis found an increase in suicide among adults aged 65 plus during the 2003 SARS epidemic in Hong Kong. The qualitative exploration of suicide motives gives food for thought on how we can ensure the well-being of older adults during this pandemic.

Yip, P. S. F., Cheung, Y. T.,  Chau, P. H.,  & Y. W. Law. (2010). The impact of epidemic outbreak. Crisis, 31(2), 86–92.

4. Not all adverse events are negative

As many people are discovering, living in lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic involves some obvious hardships, but it is not all negative. Rather, many of us are also discovering that there are some surprising positive outcomes arising from the experience. This article from the European Journal of Health Psychology systemically reviews the research on adversity and its potential for increasing resilience and thriving, and gives useful insights into the practical implications.

Höltge, J., Mc Gee, S. L., Maercker, A., & Thoma, M. V.  (2018). A salutogenic perspective on adverse experiences: The curvilinear relationship of adversity and well-being. European Journal of Health Psychology, 25, 53–69.