Valerie Reyna, professor of human development in Cornell's College of Human Ecology commented recently on the rising fear of Ebola in the United States for the PBS News Hour, the Huffington Post, and for the Cornell Press.
“The layperson’s perception of risk from Ebola is understandable from a psychological perspective. People often think in terms of categorical possibilities—especially about horrifying possibilities. They are told that transmission is categorically impossible, then the impossible happens--twice. Two healthcare workers get infected. Suddenly, the impossible becomes possible and people are naturally fearful."
“It is crucial to understand the public’s perception of risk as an integral part of public health efforts to control infections, whether those infections are HIV, HPV and its vaccine, or Ebola. The science of human perception and behavior cannot be ignored because it is a key part of keeping the nation safe.”
For PBS newshour, October 16, 2014, she elaborated: "now, psychologically, people have shifted from, this is an impossibility to, not only is it a possibility, but it’s one that’s increasing. And the human mind is keenly attuned to change, to increases in risk, as well as changes from impossible to possible."
Fear actually spreads from person to person similarly to how a physical virus is transmitted, Reyna said in her interview with Huffington Post, October 17, 2014. And if a risk is unfamiliar to us -- something that we've never experienced and may not understand the actual of level of risk associated -- it tends to produce more dread, says Reyna.