Researchers say ‘us-versus-them’ mentality was present early in pandemic

As a wave of COVID-19 cases from the omicron variant wanes, various viewpoints on what the next phase of the pandemic should look like have emerged. Such differences in opinion have created us-versus-them mentalities, according to Penn State College of Medicine researchers. Results from a survey they conducted indicate that this ‘us-versus-them’ mentality was present in local communities in the early months of the pandemic.

March 9, 2022Penn State College of Medicine News

Dr. Lauren Van Scoy, associate professor of medicine, humanities and public health sciences, was part of a team that surveyed nearly 6,000 central Pennsylvania residents in March 2020. Participants were asked four open-ended questions, including “What worries you most about the COVID-19 pandemic?”

Van Scoy and her team, which includes Dr. Robert Lennon, associate professor of family and community medicine, analyzed responses to this and other questions from more than 500 participants and they noticed some commonalities in answers – a lack of faith in others; fear of illness or death; frustration at perceived slow societal response and a desire for transparency in communicating local COVID-19 information. The team published their findings in the journal PLOS One.

“Almost two years into the pandemic, society is clearly divided about what comes next and what precautions are needed,” said Van Scoy, who also co-directs the Qualitative and Mixed Methods Core (a research resource) at the College of Medicine. “It’s clear that the pandemic has divided the country in many ways. But our study shows that from the very beginning there was a sense of “othering”, which in the past has been primarily a response to diversity of backgrounds or orientation. We found that othering was happening in our community related to how people respond to public health recommendations. That was a phenomenon that hadn’t been seen prior to this pandemic.”

According to Van Scoy, addressing this ‘othering’ mentality early during public health crises may help boost compliance with recommended health behaviors and mend political divides.

Bethany Snyder, Erin Miller, Olubukola Toyobo, Ashmita Grewal, Giang Ha, Sarah Gillespie, Megha Patel and Aleksandra Zgierska of Penn State College of Medicine also contributed to this research. The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

This research was supported by grants from the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences and the Social Science Research Institute at Penn State and from the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Penn State College of Medicine.

Read the manuscript in PLOS One

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