BIS and COVID-19 Study Details

Principal Investigators: Dean McKay (Fordham University) and Gordon J. G. Asmundson (University of Regina)

COVID-19’s communicable nature has heightened global concerns around transmission as individuals struggle with the uncertainty of a disease invisible to the naked eye. Research on the Behavioral Immune System (BIS), the body’s behavioral and emotional response system that evolved to protect against potential illness, indicates that the prominent emergence of pathogens in a community may activate this system. Anxiety, disgust, and xenophobia (fear or hatred of foreigners) are critical reactions involved in the BIS, as individuals attempt to cope with fear of the pandemic and uncertainty around identifying the invisible threats of disease.

In this study, we explore the role of the BIS in anxiety and how disgust and xenophobia maintain anxiety (due to fear of contracting COVID-19). We will also investigate the use of technology and consumption of drugs and alcohol as coping strategies for COVID-19 related anxiety and responses to emotional reactions associated with BIS activation. As a follow-up of an earlier study investigating anxiety and disgust in China during this pandemic, this project focuses on these emotional reactions in participants in the United States and Canada. Participants will complete a series of online measures via a web-based platform. Of the 1000 responses (500 from the US and 500 from Canada), approximately 200 responses will come from health-care workers, who are instrumental in the front-line response to treating COVID-19. We expect that the results of this study will provide more information on important features of the BIS and help us understand individuals’ emotional and behavioral reactions to COVID-19. This may shed light on how people respond to pandemic stressors and fears, serving as a current resource for this and future pandemics.