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My friends and family are trusted people. Am I taking risks if I meet them during the pandemic?

Text updated on 2021-01-14


Yes! Anyone can transmit the virus. Despite our prejudices, strangers are no more likely to transmit the disease than people we know. We often lower our guard (and our masks) when we are with people we trust: our friends, our family, and those around us. But less protection means taking the risk of being infected by those we are closest to.

Research in social psychology shows that we often unintentionally and unconsciously associate diseases, germs, and parasites with groups of people who are "different" from us: foreigners, immigrants, and people from different cultural or social backgrounds. We feel more secure and trust people we feel close to or who look like us because they share the same culture, habits, and social codes with us, while we will be wary of strangers.

As a result, people take more risks, including risks to their health, when they are in a group of people with whom they identify, for example, members of the same family, but also participants in the same festival or political demonstration in the street, students at the same university, members of the same association, etc. For example, most people drink from the same glass as their partner, child, or best friend, but never in the glass of a random passenger on public transport.

However, the coronavirus does not make any distinction and is transmitted as quickly among people who look like us as among those who do not look like us! Anyone can become infected when in contact with other people if they do not respect the barrier gestures, i.e., wearing a well-fitting, well-filtering mask on their face, washing their hands regularly, ventilating living and working areas well, and keeping a safe distance from others.

In fact, even though we are more suspicious of strangers than of the people around us, it is very likely that it is the people we know the most and feel close to who are transmitting the coronavirus to us, because we are much less careful in our interactions with them. To avoid this, we need to :

- keep in mind that we tend to feel safe - wrongly - with the people we feel close to,

- be very careful when meeting with family and friends, especially if there are vulnerable people,

- also be very careful when gathering with other people with whom we identify with more, such as at a party, festival, or event.


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Sources

A study showing that perceived vulnerability to disease is correlated with xenophobic attitudes and that the more individuals feel vulnerable to a contagious disease, the more xenophobic attitudes increase.

Faulkner, J., Schaller, M., Park, J. H., & Duncan, L. A. (2004). Evolved disease-avoidance mechanisms and contemporary xenophobic attitudes. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 7(4), 333-353.

This study shows that the sharing of social codes by participants in a large gathering reduces the perception of health risks.

Hult Khazaie, D., & Khan, S. S. (2020). Shared social identification in mass gatherings lowers health risk perceptions via lowered disgust. British Journal of Social Psychology, 59(4), 839-856.

An article that shows the link between the degree of identification with others, the level of trust and risk-taking.

Cruwys, T., Greenaway, K., Ferris, L. J., Rathbone, J., Saeri, A. K., Williams, E., Parker, S. L., Change, M. X. L., Croft, N., Bingley, W., & Grace, L. (2020). When trust goes wrong: A social identity model of risk taking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Presenting a beer in the colours of your university makes it safer or less risky.

Loersch, C., & Bartholow, B. D. (2011). The color of safety: Ingroup-associated colors make beer safer. Journal of experimental social psychology, 47(1), 190-194.

As part of COVID-19, the sharing of social and cultural codes affects how health risks are perceived.

Cruwys, T., Stevens, M. and Greenaway, K.H. (2020), A social identity perspective on COVID-19: Health risk is affected by shared group membership. Br. J. Soc. 59: 584-593.

Further reading

How do our cognitive biases influence us during COVID-19 ?

What are the key points for understanding the dynamics of the COVID epidemic?

We are planning a family reunion for the holidays: how to do it?

How to flirt in the time of COVID-19 ?

How do we assess the risks in our daily lives?

Why are gatherings not recommended during the outbreak of COVID-19 ?