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Government, media and citizens: Watch out for the nocebo Corona effect

We are confronted on a daily basis with news about the Corona virus and its consequences. We read alarming headlines like 'Dutch becoming increasingly anxious about Corona virus' or 'Huge fears and stress about Corona crisis'.

Those headlines are part of the essential communication around Corona to make citizens aware of the very real danger of Corona and the importance of the preventive measures that are currently restricting our freedom. Anxiety about the Corona virus and its effects is another factor having an enormous impact on daily life.

In part, these fears serve a useful purpose. If the fear of contracting the virus can contribute to people maintaining a distance of 1.5 metres from one another, then it’s functional, not only for the individual but also for society. This kind of anxiety is a healthy and natural response to stressful circumstances. The other side of the coin is that anxiety can exacerbate all kinds of physical and psychological complaints, as well as having a negative influence on our behaviour and suppressing our immune system. So, what’s going on here?

How can worries about Corona intensify symptoms?

When negative consequences of treatments and/or disorders are brought on by fears about these same treatments or disorders, we refer to this as the nocebo effect, the negative counterpart of the more familiar placebo effect. The nocebo effect is the result of negative expectations that an individual, patient or practitioner may have about a particular treatment, such as anxiety about the potential risks and side-effects or worries about catching an infection. This response can actually intensify the very symptoms people fear; it works on the basis of the ‘You get what you expect’ principle, and becomes a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. How does that work? And what can we do about it? 

Read Andrea Evers and Joost Derwig at Leiden Psychology Blog:
Government, media and citizens: Watch out for the nocebo Corona effect

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