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News

How a Soap Opera Virus Felled Hundreds of Students in Portugal – Smithsonian (2006)

From SMITHSONIANMAG.COM, 6th March, 2017

The schools fell like dominoes across Portugal in May 2006, one after another calling upon government officials with reports of dozens, then hundreds of students struck with rashes, dizziness and difficulty breathing, just as year-end exams approached. Was it a mysterious allergic reaction, a chemical spill, a virus? After digging deeper, medical practitioners came up with a new culprit: “Strawberries With Sugar,” or in Portuguese, “Morangos com Acucar.” No, not the food—the vector for this disease was a popular teen soap opera with a saccharine title. Just before the outbreak in the real schools, a similar, life-threatening illness had plagued the teenaged characters in their fictional school.

The Portuguese students weren’t suffering from a virus or allergies: they’d come down with mass psychogenic illness.

In a psychogenic illness, a psychological trigger—rather than a biological or environmental one—causes actual physical symptoms. As sociologist Robert Bartholomew explains: “Mass hysteria is the placebo effect in reverse. People can literally make themselves ill from nothing more than an idea.” Bartholomew has studied mass hysteria extensively, and written about outbreaks around the world. “Parents and students fight the diagnosis as no one wants to accept that their kids were ‘hysterical,’” he said by email. “In reality, it’s a collective stress reaction and found in normal people.”

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/how-soap-opera-virus-felled-hundreds-students-portugal-180962383/

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News

New Study Finds Masks Hurt Schoolchildren Physically, Psychologically, and Behaviorally – Montana Daily Gazette

A new study, involving over 25,000 school-aged children, shows that masks are harming schoolchildren physically, psychologically, and behaviorally, revealing 24 distinct health issues associated with wearing masks.

The health issues and impairments observed in this study were found to affect 68% of masked children who are forced to wear a face covering for an average of 4.5 hours per day. The study also includes 17,854 health complaints submitted by parents.

Some of the health issues found in the study include: increased headaches (53%), difficulty concentrating (50%), drowsiness or fatigue (37%), malaise (42%), and nearly a third of children experience more sleep issues than they had previously and a quarter of children developed new fears.

Though these results are concerning, the study also found that 29.7% of children experienced shortness of breath, 26.4% experienced dizziness, and hundreds of the participants experiencing accelerated respiration, tightness in chest, weakness, and short-term impairment of consciousness.

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News

Government accused of using Covid fear tactics to inflate anxiety levels of British public – The Express

A group of 47 psychologists has claimed this amounts to a strategic decision “to inflate the fear levels of the British public”, which it states is “ethically murky” and has left people too afraid to leave their homes for medical appointments. Led by former NHS consultant psychologist Dr Gary Sidley, the experts have written to the British Psychological Society (BPS) claiming the strategy is “morally questionable.”

https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/1388315/coronavirus-feat-tactics-psychology-british-public

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Publications

Fear of Terrorist Attack Could Trigger Mass Psychogenic Illness – U.S. Department of Homeland Security (2006)

A phenomenon in which social trauma or anxiety combines with a suspicious event to produce psychosomatic symptoms, such as nausea, difficulty breathing, and paralysis. If many individuals come to believe that the psychosomatic outbreak is connected to the cause of the trauma or anxiety, these symptoms can spread rapidly throughout a population.

In December 2005 a mysterious illness marked by headache, fever, faintness, and numbness in extremities occurred in 13 school children in the Shelkov region of Chechnya. Many believed the illness was caused by a Russian chemical weapons attack, which precipitated the rapid spread of similar symptoms throughout the region. Medical officials determined the episode was a case of psychosomatic contagion—mass psychogenic illness—brought on by anxiety over Russian military activities in the area. There is no evidence the illnesses were caused by chemical weapons.

https://file.wikileaks.org/file/dhs-mass-psychogenic-illness-2006.pdf

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Opinion Videos

Will putting London into Tier 3 cripple the economy? – Dr. John Lee, talkRADIO

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News

Belgium’s shops were shut ‘as a coronavirus shock tactic’ – The Times

Shutting shops at the end of October was a “psychological shock” tactic to bring home the need for restrictions to arrest the spread of the virus, the country’s health minister has admitted.

Non-essential retailers were forced to close at the end of October as infection rates reached the highest level in Europe and hospital admissions threatened to overwhelm intensive care units. Shops will reopen today after a decline in infections.

Frank Vandenbroucke told the broadcaster VRT that, with masks and social distancing, “shopping does not really involve any risk”.

https://web.archive.org/web/20201201112954/https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/belgiums-shops-were-shut-as-a-coronavirus-shock-tactic-2x9wklf7v

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Publications

Fask Facts -The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons

A curated list of mask facts and medical publications.

COVID-19 is as politically-charged as it is infectious. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the WHO, the CDC and NIH’s Dr. Anthony Fauci discouraged wearing masks as not useful for non-health care workers. Now they recommend wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are hard to do (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies). The recommendation was published without a single scientific paper or other information provided to support that cloth masks actually provide any respiratory protection. Let’s look at the data.

  • Surgical masks are loose fitting. They are designed to protect the patient from the doctors’ respiratory droplets.  There wearer is not protected from others’ airborne particles.
  • People do not wear masks properly. Many people have the mask under the nose. The wearer does not have glasses on and the eyes are a portal of entry.  If the virus lands on the conjunctiva, tears will wash it into the nasopharynx.
  • Most studies cannot separate out hand hygiene.
  • The designer masks and scarves offer minimal protection. They give a false sense of security to both the wearer and those around the wearer.
    **Not to mention they add a perverse lightheartedness to the situation.
  • If you are walking alone, no need for a mask. Avoid other folks; use common sense.
  • Remember: children under 2 years should not wear masks because of accidental suffocation and difficulty breathing in some.
  • Even if a universal mask mandate were imposed, several studies noted that folks do not use the mask properly and over-report their wearing.  Additionally, how would the mandate be enforced??
  • The positive studies are models that assume universality and full compliance.
  • If wearing a mask makes people go out and get Vitamin D – go for it. In the 1918 flu pandemic people who went outside did better.  Early reports are showing people with COVID-19 with low Vitamin D do worse than those with normal levels. Perhaps that is why shut-ins do so poorly.

https://aapsonline.org/mask-facts/

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Videos

Live NHS Special – Unlocked

We get to grips with the unintended consequences of lockdown on the NHS & the health of the nation.

Martin Daubney interviews Ex-director of the WHO Cancer Programme Professor Karol Sikora.
Consultant Neurologist and MS specialist Dr Waqar Rashid
Dr Ellie Cannon NHS GP and Mail on Sunday Columnist
Dr Tom Jefferson Clinical Epidomilogist- University of Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine
Dr John Lee Former Clinical Professor of Pathology at Hull York Medical School and Consultant Histopathologist at Rotherham General Hospital & Director of Cancer Services at Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust.

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Opinion

Face masks make you stupid – The Critic

Face masks make you suggestible; they make you more likely to follow someone else’s direction and do things you wouldn’t otherwise do

In Joost Meerloo’s analysis of false confessions and totalitarian regimes, The Rape of the Mind, he coins a phrase for the ‘dumbing down’ of critical resistance – menticide. “In the totalitarian regime,” he wrote, “the doubting, inquisitive, and imaginative mind has to be suppressed. The totalitarian slave is only allowed to memorise, to salivate when the bell rings.”

…The fact that masks likely don’t even work brings us to the final reason that wearing one inculcates stupidity and compliance: through a bombardment of lies, contradictions, and confusion, the state overwhelms your ability to reason clearly…

…As Theodore Dalrymple wrote, “In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control.”

https://thecritic.co.uk/face-masks-make-you-stupid/

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Publications

COVID-19 Vaccine Messaging, Part 1 – ClinicalTrials.gov

For a commentary on this trial, please see the video embedded below.

This study tests different messages about vaccinating against COVID-19 once the vaccine becomes available. Participants are randomized to 1 of 12 arms, with one control arm and one baseline arm. We will compare the reported willingness to get a COVID-19 vaccine at 3 and 6 months of it becoming available between the 10 intervention arms to the 2 control arms.

https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04460703


Commentary by Dave Cullen.

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Opinion

How SAGE and the UK media created fear in the British public

COVID-19 started registering with most of the British public around late February and early March. Many were concerned but not particularly afraid. Only weeks later people were terrified to leave their homes or go near other human beings. How did such a dramatic shift in public perception happen so quickly?

In early March 2020, The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) produced a document for the UK Government highlighting methods for rolling out new social distancing rules. There seemed to be some doubt as to whether the public would comply with the upcoming measures so SAGE outlined a methodology based on known psychological behavioural modification techniques.

Research and analysis: Options for increasing adherence to social distancing measures, 22 March 2020

SAGE, SPI-B and applied psychology

SAGE is an advisory group to the UK government responsible for making sure decision makers have access to scientific advice. We are told that the advice provided by SAGE does not represent official government policy.

SAGE also relies on expert sub-groups for COVID-19 specific advice. These sub-groups include:

  • NERVTAG: New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group
  • SPI-M: Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling
  • SPI-B: Independent Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours

The identity of individual committee members themselves were initially kept secret, purportedly due to national security. Some names were eventually released, largely due to efforts by UK businessman Simon Dolan and his legal challenge campaign. Nevertheless, two members remain anonymous.

Psychological techniques for behavioural change

The document itself, titled Options for increasing adherence to social distancing measures, was drafted by SPI-B, the behavioural science sub-group for SAGE.

SPI-B highlighted nine broad ways of achieving behavioural change in the public:

  1. Education
  2. Persuasion
  3. Incentivisation
  4. Coercion
  5. Enablement
  6. Training
  7. Restriction
  8. Environmental restructuring
  9. Modelling

In the document, SPI-B focused on the methods most relevant to their stated goals and set out ten options that were evaluated on six criteria.

The six criteria, under the acronym APEASE, were:

  • Acceptability
  • Practicability
  • Effectiveness
  • Affordability
  • Spill-over effects
  • Equity
Source: Options for increasing adherence to social distancing measures, 22 March 2020

Government persuasion through fear

A key part of SPI-B’s behavioural change strategy that seems to have been adopted was to ‘persuade through fear.’ The Persuasion section of the document states:

A substantial number of people still do not feel sufficiently personally threatened.

Clearly, the psychologists felt that, as of late March, the public was still not afraid of COVID-19. It therefore suggested that the government increase the level of fear:

The perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard-hitting emotional messaging.

Appendix B of the document lists ten options that can be used to increase social distancing in the public. Option 2 advises:

Use media to increase sense of personal threat.

Source: Options for increasing adherence to social distancing measures, 22 March 2020

In hindsight, this explains the tone of government sponsored social media and physical billboard advertising campaigns that started appearing around April.

SPI-B recommendations to increase personal threat and use hard-hitting emotional messaging are on display with eerie imagery coupled with taglines such as:

  • Anyone can get it. Anyone can spread it.
  • Don’t put your friends and family in danger.
  • Stay home for your family. Don’t put their lives in danger.
  • If you go out, you can spread it. People will die.
Source: Reuters, 8 April 2020
Source: Sky News, 18 April 2020

Hysterical news headlines

During the first week of April 2020, the InProportion2 project noticed a change in the BBC headlines and posted the article, BBC: Informing or scaring?

Source: BBC headlines in April 2020 compiled by InProportion2

The article compared hysterical BBC news headline from the first week of April 2020 with those from 2018, when mortality rates were peaking due to a bad flu season. It found no references to flu or excess mortality on the BBC home page during the 2018 peak. InProportion2 asked, “Do the headlines reflect the gravity of the situations in an equivalent way – or is additional fear being stirred up in 2020?

Persuasion through shame and approval: Covidiots and heroes

SPI-B psychologists knew that fear on its own would not persuade everyone. Messaging needed to be tailored to take into account different ‘motivational levers.’

Some people will be more persuaded by appeals to play by the rules, some by duty to the community, and some to personal risk.

It therefore suggested using both social approval and disapproval, with compulsion (legislation) as a backup:

  • Option 6: Use and promote social approval for desired behaviours
  • Option 7: Consider enacting legislation to compel required behaviours
  • Option 8: Consider use of social disapproval for failure to comply

We can see the obvious approval-disapproval dialectic with the ‘Heroes and Covidiots’ narrative that soon began to surface in the news. The term ‘Covidiot’ appeared around March with The Economist’s 1843 Magazine describing covidiots in this way:

Even in a pandemic, many of us are prone to judge others and find them wanting: the term “covidiot” describes any and every person behaving stupidly or irresponsibly as the epidemic spreads. Sometime in early March the word was born, and, almost as fast as the virus spread, so did instances of covidiotic behaviour.

Although it’s not clear how the term came about, it was quickly adopted in UK mainstream and social media. At the same time, we began seeing praise for heroes who ‘did the right thing’ by complying with the government measures.

The METRO article below shows all three options in play:

  • Social approval:These local heroes have been doing amazing things…”
  • Social disapproval: “Lake District closed…because covidiots won’t stay away…”
  • Compulsion:Matt Hancock threatens to close beaches…”
Source: METRO, 27 Mar 2020

An incentivised media

These psychological techniques would have been impossible to deploy on the public without a compliant media. How did the government convince the media to go along with the plan?

Increased UK government media spending

Digiday, a media and marketing industry publication, reported in April that the government is becoming UK news publishers’ most important client. In the 20 April 2020 article for Digiday, Lara O’Reilly wrote:

…the government is spending more than usual, judging by their bookings. The publishers also pointed out that the lack of activity from other advertisers in the current market means the government campaigns will have an outweighed share of voice compared with normal times.

Digiday Stay At Home campaign
Source: Digiday, 20 April 2020

During that period, the British public started seeing coverage across media outlets with the unified “In this together” messaging. O’Reilly pointed out that the campaign was worth £35 million over a three month period.

Last week, the government and newspaper industry launched a three-month advertising partnership dubbed “All in, all together.” The campaign — worth approximately £35 million ($44 million) for the full course, according to sources — kicked off on Apr. 17, with all the U.K.’s national and regional daily news brands running near-identical cover wraps and homepage takeovers, which carried the copy, “Stay at home for the NHS, your family, your neighbours, your nation the world and life itself.” 

So, we ask again: how did the government convince the media to go along with the plan? The answer is simple and obvious: with lots of money.

Psychological techniques to change behaviour

We can see that the UK Government has a public document outlining psychological techniques to change the behaviour of the population. We see a unified mass-media campaign that falls in line with these techniques. We then see a dramatic shift in public perception and behaviour.

What else can we call this but ‘brainwashing’?

Despite the open nature of what has transpired, it seems to have gained little coverage in the media. This is of no surprise since it was clearly complicit in spreading fear in the public.

Download the document

The document is freely downloadable on the gov.uk website in a page titled, “Research and analysis – Options for increasing adherence to social distancing measures, 22 March 2020“.

We encourage you to read the document, compare it with your observations about how the government and media has acted, then make up your own mind.


Updates

After seven months the mainstream media finally catches up. On 24th January 2021, The Express published the following article: Government accused of using Covid fear tactics to inflate anxiety levels of British public.

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Opinion

SAGE advises use of media to increase sense of personal threat

Update 27 June 2020: For a more in-depth commentary, please read How SAGE and the UK media created fear in the British public


In early March 2020, The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) produced a document for the UK Government highlighting recommendations for increasing adherence to social distancing measures. There seemed to be some doubt as to whether the public would comply with the upcoming measures so SAGE developed a methodology based on criteria called ‘APEASE’.

The document itself was drafted by SPI-B, the behavioural science sub-group for SAGE. More information about SPI-B can be found in this document.

Source: Options for increasing adherence to social distancing measures, 22 March 2020

APEASE criteria

In the document, behavioural change options were set in a grid and evaluated based on the six criteria. See Appendix B in the linked document.

SPI-B’s APEASE criteria are:

  • Acceptability
  • Practicability
  • Effectiveness
  • Affordability
  • Spill-over effects
  • Equity

Persuasion through fear

It seems that a big part of SPI-B’s behavioural change strategy was to ‘persuade through fear.’ The Persuasion section of the document states:

The perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard-hitting emotional messaging. To be effective this must also empower people by making clear the actions they can take to reduce the threat.

Appendix B of the document lists ten options that can be used to increase social distancing in the public. Option 2 advises: “Use media to increase sense of personal threat.

Psychological techniques to change behaviour

In this document, the UK Government has openly admitted to using psychological techniques to change the behaviour of the British population. Despite the open nature of this admission, it seems to have gained little coverage in the media.

This is of no surprise since the British media was clearly complicit in spreading fear in the public.

Download the document

The document is freely downloadable on the gov.uk website in a page titled, “Research and analysis – Options for increasing adherence to social distancing measures, 22 March 2020“.

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News

Three of Boris Johnson’s top scientists accuse him of trashing their efforts to get public to obey lockdown – The Daily Mail

Boris Johnson has ‘trashed’ public trust and adherence to lockdown, Government advisers warned last night.

* Stephen Reicher, psychology professor at The University of St Andrew
* Susan Michie, professor of health psychology at University College London
* Professor West, health psychology professor at UCL

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8353025/Boris-Johnsons-scientists-accuse-trashing-efforts-public-obey-lockdown.html

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Publications

Options for increasing adherence to social distancing measures – SAGE

A confirmation that The UK Government is using psychological techniques to attack the minds of the British people.

For commentary, see:

Source document:

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/882722/25-options-for-increasing-adherence-to-social-distancing-measures-22032020.pdf

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Publications

Threatening communication: a critical re-analysis and a revised meta-analytic test of fear appeal theory – NIH

Despite decades of research, consensus regarding the dynamics of fear appeals remains elusive. A meta-analysis was conducted that was designed to resolve this controversy. Publications that were included in previous meta-analyses were re-analysed, and a number of additional publications were located. The inclusion criteria were full factorial orthogonal manipulations of threat and efficacy, and measurement of behaviour as an outcome. Fixed and random effects models were used to compute mean effect size estimates. Meta-analysis of the six studies that satisfied the inclusion criteria clearly showed a significant interaction between threat and efficacy, such that threat only had an effect under high efficacy (d = 0.31), and efficacy only had an effect under high threat (d = 0.71). Inconsistency in results regarding the effectiveness of threatening communication can likely be attributed to flawed methodology. Proper tests of fear appeal theory yielded the theoretically hypothesised interaction effect. Threatening communication should exclusively be used when pilot studies indicate that an intervention successfully enhances efficacy.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3678850/

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Publications

Applying principles of behaviour change to reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission – Nature

Human behaviour is central to transmission of SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and changing behaviour is crucial to preventing transmission in the absence of pharmaceutical interventions. Isolation and social distancing measures, including edicts to stay at home, have been brought into place across the globe to reduce transmission of the virus, but at a huge cost to individuals and society. In addition to these measures, we urgently need effective interventions to increase adherence to behaviours that individuals in communities can enact to protect themselves and others: use of tissues to catch expelled droplets from coughs or sneezes, use of face masks as appropriate, hand-washing on all occasions when required, disinfecting objects and surfaces, physical distancing, and not touching one’s eyes, nose or mouth. There is an urgent need for direct evidence to inform development of such interventions, but it is possible to make a start by applying behavioural science methods and models.

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-020-0887-9

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News

Lockdown is the world’s biggest psychological experiment – and we will pay the price – World Economic Forum

Currently, an estimated 2.6 billion people – one-third of the world’s population – is living under some kind of lockdown or quarantine. This is arguably the largest psychological experiment ever conducted.

Unfortunately, we already have a good idea of its results

In short, and perhaps unsurprisingly, people who are quarantined are very likely to develop a wide range of symptoms of psychological stress and disorder, including low mood, insomnia, stress, anxiety, anger, irritability, emotional exhaustion, depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms. Low mood and irritability specifically stand out as being very common, the study notes.

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/this-is-the-psychological-side-of-the-covid-19-pandemic-that-were-ignoring/

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Publications

Why a Group of Behavioural Scientists Penned an Open Letter to the U.K. Government Questioning Its Coronavirus Response – Behavioural Scientist

The open letter raises questions about the behavioural science evidence that may have been used to justify this decision—though a lack of transparency from the government has made it hard to discern what the official policy is.

Categories
Publications

The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: rapid review of the evidence – The Lancet

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30460-8/fulltext