COVID-19: The Power of Fear
Charlotte, NC — Covid-19 has shown that fear of the unknown is a powerful motivator of behavioral change and decision making. Despite experiencing different variations of the flu virus every year, Americans responded to the novel-coronavirus with mass compliance to mask mandates and shutdowns, while anticipating the quick arrival of a magical cure. Through weeks of lockdowns where businesses were destroyed and lives ruined, we were continually told a return to normal would come only when everyone is fully vaccinated.
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Human response to fear is something that has been under the microscope for decades. Since at least the 1930s, social scientists have been studying the effects of fear appeals, or fear messages, on human behavior. What is a fear appeal, and to what extent did an understanding of fear-based behavior shape the Covid-19 narrative?
A fear appeal is a carefully contrived message meant to influence attitude and or, behavioral change. An effective message will contain two elements ̶ ̶ ̶ the threat itself, and the recommended course of action. The appeal should focus on the intended target’s perceptions on how the threat directly affects them. If the message is shaped correctly, it should make them believe there would be dire consequences for not complying with the recommended steps to alleviate the danger. According to the book, Dynamics of Persuasion: Communication and Attitudes in the 21st Century, developing a fear based message is an art “which requires an intricate understanding of human behavior.”
One of the most influential studies concerning people’s reactions to media messaging occurred after the War of the World’s radio broadcast in 1938. They conducted this study to examine the panic that ensued as millions of people reacted to the play as if they believed Earth was really being invaded by Martians.
There were two key findings which directly relate to fear messaging and reactions to Covid-19. One, the people’s trust in media figures, or people in the play depicting media figures, was an essential element in the panicked reactions. Two was the mental frame of reference. Just as popular media normalized a belief in alien life, the threat of a killer virus wiping out mankind falls within the existing framework of people’s mental judgment.
Not only is this idea popularized through by Hollywood movies like 28 Days Later, and television series like The Walking Dead, but also through continuous fear campaigns concerning other viruses like MRSA and Swine Flu. If a message, or stimuli, does not contradict what people already believe to be a possibility, it is more likely to be accepted as valid. This is useful information for someone who may be crafting a fear appeal to influence your behavior.
Skeptical Americans who have questioned the plandemic from the beginning have suspected that the intent was to frighten us into accepting the vaccine. Many people understand Marxism and the concept of The Hegelian Dialectic. This is the idea, based on dialectical materialism, that all social progress is because of conflict.
The Hegelian Dialectic suggests that problems are deliberately created, coaxing the public into demanding a pre-planned solution which is waiting to be implemented. While this seems to be a conspiratorial idea, a deep dive into the study of Marxism shows the concepts exist, at least theoretically. There is evidence that shows this theory, in relation to our response to fear, could have been used in exploiting our reactions to Covid-19. The persuasive strategy of fear-then-relief is believed to produce automatic compliance to persuasive suggestions when the threat in a fear appeal is suddenly removed.
Fear-then-relief is a technique where the persuader deliberately places the intended target in a state of fear, then removes that fear, replacing it with kind requests for compliance to whatever the recommended course of action may be. As far as Covid-19 is concerned, the media kept the public in such a state of panic ̶ ̶̶ and with a friendly smile, assured us everything would be o.k. if people would comply with two weeks to flatten the curve, mask mandates, and now, the vaccine. While people are growing weary of the continued insistence that everyone be vaccinated, compliance to mask mandates was unquestionably high, giving credibility to this technique.
Numerous studies have been done (see another here) showing the fear-then-relief technique to have scientific validity. One of the overwhelming conclusions is that people, when relived of the anxiety of a fear-producing stimulus, enter a mindless type of state, making them more compliant. It could be theoretically argued that the promise of normalness returning with the vaccine is the fear removal process. Even though the media is continually pushing vaccine propaganda, many people are choosing not to get the jab.
Many hundreds of thousands, however, who were no doubt deeply traumatized by the Covid-19 event, are mindlessly complying without question. Interestingly, Cass Sunstein writes in his book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness, that most people do not have the cognitive ability to think deeply enough about complex situations, or every choice they must make; because of this, their behavior and choices are easily persuadable. People who are opting out of getting the vaccine are clearly those who are taking the time to research the issue beyond the media hype.
There is a question as to how long the state of mindlessness lasts. The research has shown that if given the opportunity, or if placed in a situation where a mindful decision had to be made immediately following the removal of a fear stimulus, automatic compliance may not be the result.
The continuously changing information surrounding Covid-19, and the confusion associated with it, could be a deliberate strategy to avoid this, keeping people anxious and willing to get the vaccine. That is a theoretical speculation, but given the fact that the narrative has shifted to demanding we all get vaccinated because unvaccinated people are making those who got the shot sicker, it is speculation that should be taken seriously.
Human reactions to media messages and fear appeals have been studied for decades. They are refining the use of fear to motivate behavioral and attitude change to a highly tuned science. There is plenty of evidence, for those who would choose to look, suggesting Covid-19 was a carefully planned psychological operation based on what they already know about our reactions to fear based stimuli.
It is entirely possible, based on the fear-then-relief principle, that they fully expected people to line up for their shot without giving it a second thought based on the assumption that life would return to normal. As the poison pushers realize that not everyone will mindlessly fall for their fear antics, they will no doubt ramp up the fear based messaging. The end goal is to get you to accept that full vaccination is the only way to save humanity. Researching the issue for yourself is the key to not falling for these fear appeal strategies.
Article posted with permission from David Risselada