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COVID-19: What fear of a pandemic does to our brains

A woman wearing a protective mask walks at the Termini Station in Rome, Italy, on Feb. 24, 2020. EPA/ANGELO CARCONI

In today’s Big Story podcast, COVID-19 is a respiratory disease — but that’s not the only system in the body at risk when fear of a global pandemic reaches fever pitch. As information about who has the virus, where it has hit hardest and where it might be next dominates our networks and social media feeds, it can be easy to let fear take over. This is what happens in a pandemic, when our ability to evaluate risk takes a back seat to our darker fears.

Today, we’ll explore what COVID-19 — or at least, all the coverage of it — is doing to our brains’ ability to sort danger from spectre, to push us toward a herd mentality and to either exacerbate our existing anxiety, or make us reckless enough to put others in danger. Canada has been mostly spared by the virus so far, but you wouldn’t know it from the lines at Costco. This is why.

GUEST: Dr. Steven Taylor, professor of clinical psychology, University of British Columbia; author of The Psychology of Pandemics

You can subscribe to The Big Story podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google and Spotify.

You can also find it at thebigstorypodcast.ca.