Does COVID-19 Really Hate You?
June 1, 2020
As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, you may have seen an editorial cartoon or TV news story depicting the coronavirus with eyes, nose, and mouth, and a menacing look on its face.
According to Dr. Michaela Porubanova, assistant professor of Cognitive Psychology, affixing human traits to the virus – or, for that matter, anything not human – is known as anthropomorphism. She explains.
“Humans anthropomorphize all the time. Whether it is calling your dog smart and witty, or calling the coronavirus vicious and merciless, we do it all the time. Sometimes it serves a function of finding traces of the most important entities for us (other humans), and sometimes just to a sense of control in times of anxiety.”
Dr. Porubanova has just published an article about this: “Humanizing the coronavirus as an invisible enemy is human nature.” Co-authored by Dr. Stewart Guthrie, Fordham University, the article explains further: “This habit often results in the mistake of thinking you see persons, or features of persons, where they don’t exist, as with the new virus. But having a human-like model… to apply to such a mysterious, invisible and dangerous entity as the coronavirus provides some measure of apparent control, and thus comfort.
“And although people may not consciously believe that the coronavirus is like a person, their language and behavior suggest that they do so unconsciously.”
Dr. Porubanova adds: “The article explains why it is so common for us to use human characteristics when talking about the coronavirus. One could see this everywhere in the media, and we analyzed the examples using philosophy, anthropology, and cognitive neuroscience. We applied cognitive and evolutionary approaches in explaining why it is so common.”
The article is based on a chapter in the book, Faces in Clouds and Voices in Wind: Anthropomorphism in Religion and Human Cognition, to be published by Routledge.