Stigmas, once evolutionarily sound, are now bad health strategies

Mar 28, 2014

Stigmatization may have once served to protect early humans from infectious diseases, but that strategy may do more harm than good for modern humans, according to Penn State researchers.

"The things that made stigmas a more functional strategy thousands of years ago rarely exist," said Rachel Smith, associate professor of communication arts and sciences and human development and family studies. "Now, it won't promote positive health behavior and, in many cases, it could actually make the situation worse."

Stigmatizing and ostracizing members stricken with may have helped groups of survive, said Smith, who worked with David Hughes, assistant professor of entomology and biology. Infectious agents thrive by spreading through populations, according to Smith and Hughes, who published an essay in the current issue of Communication Studies.

For early humans, a person who was stigmatized by the group typically suffered a quick death, often from a lack of food or from falling prey to a predator. Groups did not mix on a regular basis, so another group was unlikely to adopt an ostracized person. Infectious disease stigmas may have evolved as a social defense for group-living species, and had adaptive functions when early humans had these interaction patterns.

However, modern society is much larger, more mobile and safer from predators, eliminating the effectiveness of this strategy, according to Smith.

"In modern times, we mix more regularly, travel more widely, and also there are so many people now," Smith said. "These modern interaction patterns make unproductive and often create more problems."

Hughes studies disease in another successful society, the ants, which have strong stigma and ostracism strategies that serve group interests at the cost to individuals.

"Ants are often held up as paragons of society and efficiency but we certainly do not want to emulate how they treat their sick members, which can be brutal," said Hughes.

Stigmatization could actually make infectious disease management worse. The threat of ostracization may make people less likely to seek out medical treatment. If people refuse to seek treatment and go about their daily routines, they may cause the disease to spread farther and faster, according to the researchers, who are both investigators in the Center of Infectious Disease Dynamics in Penn State Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences.

Stigmatization may harm a person's ability to survive a disease. Ostracization may increase stress, lessening the body's ability to fight off diseases and infections.

"People are very sensitive to rejection and humans worry about being ostracized," said Smith. "These worries and experiences with rejection can cause problematic levels of stress and, unfortunately, stress can compromise the immune system's ability to fight off an infection, accelerating disease progression."

Once applied, a stigma is difficult to remove, even when there are obvious signs that the person was never infected or is cured. Health communicators should make sure they intentionally monitor if their public communication or intervention materials create or bolster stigmas before using them, Smith said.

Explore further: Multilevel approach to coping with stigmas identified

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User comments : 17

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verkle
1 / 5 (9) Mar 29, 2014
Stigmas may not always be helpful healthwise, but they can be useful in nurturing our moral behavior. When someone has AIDS there is a bad stigma attached to it because likely it is a result of immoral actions. It warns us to keep ourselves pure. But nonetheless we are also reminded to love everyone the same, no matter what condition they are in.

TheGhostofOtto1923
4.5 / 5 (8) Mar 29, 2014
keep ourselves pure... also reminded to love everyone
So you vilify them with love. Makes sense. And when they happen to occupy land that your god says belongs to you, or when they have resources that your god says they dont deserve, you get to kill them with love like joshua slew the canaanites. This also makes sense from a 'conquer the world' perspective.

And the god who says 'give no thought for the morrow' in conjunction with 'Children are a blessing and a gift from the Lord' sees nothing immoral whatsoever with making babies until they are dying from starvation, because as he also says, 'Fill up the earth' with more believers and fewer heathens.

And how else could this be accomplished but through forced overpopulation, or as teddy roosevelt called it 'warfare of the cradle'? And how else could THAT be accomplished than by deeming all non-procreative sex a heinous sin, and by forcing women to do nothing else BUT make babies until it kills them?

Your morality is the worlds
TheGhostofOtto1923
4 / 5 (4) Mar 29, 2014
HORROR.
orti
1 / 5 (3) Mar 30, 2014
Let's see, divorce or no family at all is stressing children, gonorrhea is becoming untreatable, it's not especially healthy to be aborted, AIDS has had a huge societal financial cost, and on-and-on.
orti
1 / 5 (3) Mar 30, 2014
Removing the taboo against murder may help the killer feel less rejected, but it doesn't do much for the victim. But its nice academic research.
mzso
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 30, 2014
"Ants are often held up as paragons of society and efficiency but we certainly do not want to emulate how they treat their sick members, which can be brutal,"

The irony is that it would work just as well for people. Killing off sick people would definitely stop spreading a disease.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4 / 5 (4) Mar 30, 2014
Let's see, divorce or no family at all is stressing children, gonorrhea is becoming untreatable, it's not especially healthy to be aborted, AIDS has had a huge societal financial cost, and on-and-on.
Lets see, western countries are inundated with refugees from the third world. In third world countries, children are starving and dying from disease by the millions. This is also stressful for them yes? Especially as their mothers usually die giving birth.

Religions there forbid contraception and the kind of education which could teach them to plan for the future, limit family size, and find something meaningful to do with their lives.

Indigene growth in most western countries has ceased, but traditional growth rates are still exceeded with the flood of immigrants and their huge families. Without religion, abortion would be RARE and people would know how to avoid STDs.

WITH religion there is misery, starvation, war, and rebellion. Heaven will come to earth when god is gone.
orti
1 / 5 (5) Mar 30, 2014
Careful what you wish for Otto. You may not be happy with the result.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4 / 5 (4) Mar 30, 2014
Removing the taboo against murder may help the killer feel less rejected, but it doesn't do much for the victim
What taboo? Secular law forbids it. Religious law requires it for infidels, blasphemers, apostates, insolent children, and wayward women. And of course all those unfortunate enough to be inhabiting lands that god says belong to his chosen people.

Murder is an integral part of religion. Those that have survived to the present are the ones which can murder most efficiently. And instead of rejection the murderer feels extreme satisfaction that he will dwell in heaven for doing gods work.

"... everyone who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, was to be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman." 2 Chron15:12-13

"Anyone who is captured will be run through with a sword. Their little children will be dashed to death right before their eyes. Their homes will be sacked and their wives raped by the attacking hordes." Isaiah 13:15-18
TheGhostofOtto1923
4 / 5 (4) Mar 30, 2014
Careful what you wish for Otto. You may not be happy with the result.
Religionists love to threaten people don't they?

Their god of unlimited love and compassion will nevertheless roast unbelievers for eternity for the unforgivable sin of being unable to believe in a bloodthirsty god who writes books about things that never happened and people who never existed.

"35 Vengeance is mine, and recompense,
for the time when their foot shall slip;
for the day of their calamity is at hand,
and their doom comes swiftly." Deut32

-The promise of retribution. Another reason why religion is so popular with certain people.
orti
1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 30, 2014
Otto Dix, The Trench, Portrait du joailler Karl Krall, Nächtliche Erscheinung, 1923?
Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy, translated, 1923?
Ernst Otto Beckmann (1853-1923)?
orti
1 / 5 (4) Mar 30, 2014
Try reading to lean, not to twist so you can condemn. God's too good to miss. Suggest John as a start.
Jizby
Mar 30, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4 / 5 (4) Mar 30, 2014
Try reading... God's too good to miss. Suggest John
Try reading the bible for what it SAYS and not what you want it to say.

John? The xians favorite verse:

"16 "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

-But they rarely mention the important part:

"18 "He that believeth in Him is not condemned; but He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
19 And this is the condemnation: that Light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved."

-IOW unbelievers are unavoidably evil. ALL religions say this. This is BIGOTRY of the very worst sort because it is sanctioned by the supposed source of moral propriety.

It is actually foul beyond words.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.2 / 5 (5) Mar 30, 2014
It's funny you should mention john because out of the 4 gospels it is the only one that specifically condemns the Jews as christ-killers.

"I and the Father are one." 31The Jews took up stones again to stone Him. 32Jesus answered them, "I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?" 33The Jews answered Him, "For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God." (John 10:30-33)

-And what unspeakable horrors have been committed through the ages because of the gospel of john? Your book is FULL of evil. All holy books are. It is blatant and obvious, both in what the books say and what they have caused people to do.

Only believers so enamoured with the promises of immortality, wish-granting, retribution, and absolution, can fail to recognize this.
Sigh
5 / 5 (3) Mar 31, 2014
The irony is that it would work just as well for people. Killing off sick people would definitely stop spreading a disease.

It's not so simple. People whose illness is not yet obvious will hide it for fear of being ostracised, and that will increase other people's exposure. The threat of being killed straight away will only increase the motivation to hide. Do you know which effect will be more important for any particular disease?
The beginning of article clearly says, that the stigmas didn't evolve for helping the stigmatized individuals, but for remaining community.

See above.
Is the contemporary society really free of predators, which had made the stigmas evolutionary advantageous?

Not a lot of wolves or lions around.
I'd say instead, in the contemporary very dense population the role of stigmas increased even more.

Human predators, even those who kill, are more likely to get infected by and spread a human disease.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (4) Mar 31, 2014
The irony is that it would work just as well for people. Killing off sick people would definitely stop spreading a disease
@mzso
actually, this depends upon the type of disease and how it is transmitted.
something like Bubonic plague? nope.
aids? depends on how the person was killed: blood borne pathogens transmitted would mean try not to share fluids that are known to have the virus, etc- IOW using a shotgun/knife at close range might cause transmission depending on the splatter pattern and point of impact on the killer

you get the point, right?

killing the sick CAN NOT guarantee the inhibition in spreading of the disease, and is likely to ASSIST in the spreading and contamination with certain types of disease

antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (5) Mar 31, 2014
Killing off sick people would definitely stop spreading a disease

On the down side: It would also eliminate those from the gene pool which might survive the sickness and just leave those that aren't yet exposed. I.e. the population would retain its vulnerability to the pathogen while keeping reconvalescent people in the gene pool will eventually lead to the spread of their resistance. So you can choose: Forever have a percentage to cull or get accept some sick now and have a chance at an immune gene pool in the future.

For ants it doesn't matter for the gene pool whether a sick worker is kept alive - it's just a risk for the other workers (and if the queen happens to fall sick and die then that's "game over").

The "math of survival" is totally different for both species.