Sunday, October 4, 2020

What happens when a public figure fails to take a major health threat seriously?

 At this point, we're well aware of Trump's current health situation. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 apparently late last week (although the exact timeline has been disputed), and was admitted to Walter Reed late in the day Friday. We know he has been administered some medications that are normally recommended for patients with severe symptoms, and that at least two of those medications are still in experimental trials. As COVID-19 is highly infectious and more deadly than a typical flu, we would expect an outpouring of well-wishing for his recovery. In fact, I wish Trump well, and hope he recovers. I say that as someone who has known at least four people (so far) who, in spite of taking appropriate precautions caught this novel coronavirus anyway.

What is interesting, but also quite predictable, is that the public is taking into account personal responsibility in their reaction to Trump's health crisis:


Keep in mind that although taking appropriate preventive measures (using masks/face coverings, physical distancing of at least six feet, and proper hand hygiene) is no guarantee of avoiding infection, it helps. Failure to take those precautions, failure to take this virus seriously, is naturally going to be seen as practically inviting oneself to become infected. Really, this is just an application of basic attribution theory, going back to the work of Kelley. People make internal attributions for the plight of others when it appears as if the consequences of behavior are predictable, and that the individual made little to no attempt to avoid harm. In other words, a significant portion of the public have concluded that Trump brought this on himself. Whether or not that is necessarily fair is another conversation for another time. It is what it is, in the meantime.

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