It’s Flu Season — Watch Your Prejudices

Huffington Post:

I tried not to breathe too much on the elevator this morning. I was trying to avoid the germs of a fellow who clearly had the flu — or at least a really nasty cold. There seems to be a lot of sickness going around right now, and I’m just being prudent. I know it would have been rude to cover my face or turn my back to this guy, so I just held my breath for the 10-story ride.

That’s my behavioral immune system kicking in. Behavioral immune system is just a fancy way of summarizing what the mind and body have long known, that one of the most powerful tools we have for staying well is to watch out for sick people, and then give them wide berth. Our ancient ancestors learned this lesson well, and it’s now entwined in our basic perceptions and thinking and decision making. It’s like a sentry, always vigilant for anything out there that’s suspicious.

But the system is not simple, nor is it infallible. First of all, it’s closely tied to our biological immune system — all those cells that detect and attack foreign invaders. What’s more, it’s far from perfect at recognizing what is a real health threat and what is not. Two new studies, both published on-line in the journal Psychological Science, explore this complex dual defense system, both its cleverness and its liabilities.

Read the whole story: Huffington Post

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