Date of Award

January 2022

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Public Health (MPH)


School of Public Health

First Advisor

Katie Wang


Researchers propose that people have a disease-avoidance mechanism called thebehavioral immune system, which is intended to identify and prevent possible interactions with harmful infections. This thesis is intended to explain this phenomenon, one well researched in the fields of behavioral and evolutionary psychology, to public health professionals, who can use its hypothesized components to understand better how to support population health and wellbeing. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic will serve as a case study to understand the limitations of the BIS as it relates to socio-cultural events and personal political identification. The behavioral immune system keeps individuals healthy by monitoring and evaluating disease risks and eliciting an avoidance reaction to these dangers instead of relying on the more biologically expensive physiological immune system. However, the behavioral immune system is not flawless. The avoidance reaction, which is meant to shield humans from disease dangers, is oversensitive and can be triggered by signals that are merely believed to be linked with illnesses but are not indicative of a contagious disease. According to research, this oversensitivity can lead to increased prejudice towards out-groups who exhibit these cues and prefer persons with symmetrical features, who are thought to be healthy, and in their in-group. One approach to assessing the level of activation of the behavioral immune system is examining the emotion of disgust. The central aim of this thesis is to explore how the behavioral immune system manifested during COVID and how our impaired collective behavioral immune response influenced population health during the pandemic and the implications of this on public health policy and the public health system.


This is an Open Access Thesis.

Open Access

This Article is Open Access