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Collective symbolic coping with disease threat and othering: A case study of avian influenza

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DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-8309.2011.02048.x
  • Medicine


Much research studies how individuals cope with disease threat by blaming out-groups and protecting the in-group. The model of collective symbolic coping (CSC) describes four stages by which representations of a threatening event are elaborated in the mass media: awareness, divergence, convergence, and normalization. We used the CSC model to predict when symbolic in-group protection (othering) would occur in the case of the avian influenza (AI) outbreak. Two studies documented CSC stages and showed that othering occurred during the divergence stage, characterized by an uncertain symbolic environment. Study 1 analysed media coverage of AI over time, documenting CSC stages of awareness and divergence. In Study 2, a two-wave repeated cross-sectional survey was conducted just after the divergence stage and a year later. Othering was measured by the number of foreign countries erroneously ticked by participants as having human victims. Individual differences in germ aversion and social dominance orientation interacted to predict othering during the divergence stage but not a year later. Implications for research on CSC and symbolic in-group protection strategies resulting from disease threat are discussed.

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