Researchers identified the 3 stages of pandemic emotions


In 1990 throughout the AIDS epidemic, psychologist Phillip Robust penned an essay on a brand new mannequin for “Epidemic Psychology.” He outlined a descriptive framework of what he believed occurred to the human psyche throughout mass illness unfold. Throughout the Black Plague and the AIDS disaster, he posited, there have been concurrent psychosocial epidemics of worry, panic, suspicion, and stigma. The tactic of transmission for this collective mistrust and uncertainty was communication itself. “The human possession of language implies that the worry of such illness may be quickly, even immediately transmitted (as by means of tv) throughout thousands and thousands of folks and from one society to a different,” he wrote.

The continuing COVID-19 pandemic has supplied a uncommon alternative to place Robust’s mannequin to the take a look at. In a brand new paper revealed in the journal Nature, a gaggle of researchers discover that Robust’s concepts had been right—and will put us right into a Hobbesian battle of all towards all, if we’re not cautious.

To evaluate whether or not Robust’s mannequin held throughout the pandemic, researchers analyzed 122 million tweets from January by means of December of 2020. They discovered that Individuals had been biking by means of a string of emotions that intently mimicked these initially identified in Robust’s paper. The primary is what he referred to as a “collective disorientation,” or incapacity to find out the significance of a brand new illness. The second is a worry and paranoia that turns everybody and the whole lot into a possible vector of the illness. A remaining aspect is about taking motion and the way folks resolve to reply to the illness, which frequently includes some taste of moralizing that negatively impacts sure teams.


The group created a listing of key phrases that characterize the phases as identified by Robust. They then mapped these phrases to 4 educational lexicons for understanding emotions, psychological states, and pro-social conduct. To verify they had been capturing extra refined knowledge, one of the researchers went by means of 100 of the most retweeted tweets in every part to mark them with key phrases representing their main ideas. The group additionally utilized extra qualitative analysis strategies to grasp distinguished themes and the relationships between these themes.

Of their evaluation, the researchers mentioned three more-specific phases emerged: refusal, anger, and acceptance. These phases cycled constantly all through the pandemic. At first, folks refused to consider the pandemic was actual. Then, when the first Individuals died from COVID-19 and pandemic restrictions had been set, folks grew to become indignant. As time went on, disbelief was step by step changed with an acceptance of this new actuality. Researchers additionally discovered that between January and July of 2020, anger reoccurred, spiking alongside every new wave of circumstances.

In addition they discovered that moralistic response to the virus predominately occurred at the starting of the pandemic as evidenced by means of the recognition of two hashtags: #WuhanVirus, which was appended to tweets claiming the virus was not directly made by the Chinese language or an issue unique to China, and #QAnon, a tag that was regularly hooked up to tweets with racist undertones. Offline, the U.S. noticed (*3*) in anti-Asian hate crimes in 2020, although the examine doesn’t reference this phenomena.

The moralizing motion and the worry of each other are, maybe, the scariest repercussions of epidemic psychology, although they might be restricted in scope. Researchers noticed Twitter customers largely give attention to themselves and their very own each day actions in response to the pandemic. In the acceptance part, they had been inclined towards constructive motion centered on the collective.

The researchers additionally seen that the cycle of emotions they witnessed resembled stages of grief. Whereas many commentators have noticed a kind of collective agony amongst Individuals, this mannequin may put knowledge behind that concept. The researchers suggest future research to look at the relationship between the phases they identified and grief.

As with all analysis, this examine had limitations. Folks on Twitter characterize a selected subset of Individuals who are usually youthful, liberal, and extremely educated and never reflective of all Individuals’ attitudes. There’s additionally ample alternative for bias: Folks could painting extra optimistic attitudes on social media than they’re really feeling. As well as, it’s potential that bots or faux accounts could have influenced the outcomes of the examine. Regardless, researchers argue, it’s a related pattern, and the scale and granularity of psychological knowledge that’s obtainable on Twitter is in any other case unattainable.


In complete, what the researchers provide is a technique to quantify the human psychological response to the pandemic by means of language. Maybe sooner or later, this social knowledge mining framework could also be used to grasp psychological epidemics and, by means of focused public well being campaigns, drive folks en masse towards extra optimistic outcomes.