Buffalo researcher explores attitudes and emotions surrounding Ebola

Participants during a training session on working with Ebola in a safe manner
Participants during a training session on working with Ebola in a safe manner | Courtesy of the IAEA
Janet Ying, of the University of Buffalo, is leading a study that suggests there is more to Ebola than illness: tangled in the matrices of disease and prevention is perception of risk and risk’s influence on emotion and behavior.

This complexity of emotion and behavior, Ying asserts, further complicates Ebola and makes it more deadly than first recognized. Understanding the mechanics of Ying’s research sheds light on Ebola and human behavior.

From her survey population of 1,046 U.S. adults ranging in age from 18 to 91, Ying explained an article detailing a fictitious Ebola outbreak to measure their perceptions of the disease and dangers of it. The results of Ying’s survey, her analysis of those results, and the implications of her work and of Ebola are more surprising than imagined.

“Risk perception and worry about Ebola have the potential to elicit ethnocentric and xenophobic attitudes," ying said, "because Ebola is framed as a disease that affects ‘others,’ such as African immigrants.”

Ebola is not only a disease, but a set of cultural attitudes, perceptions and fears. Ying’s work calls for education about affected people, Ebola and cultural tolerance — a tangled matrix that, even with advancements in Ebola treatment, may be difficult to unravel.

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