Study Finds Link Between Parasites and Authoritarianism
A study suggests that countries with a high prevalence of parasites are likely to have authoritarian governments.
The psychological threat of parasites could be causing people to give rise to authoritarian governments, according to a growing body of radical and controversial research.
It might sound like science fiction, but it’s not that far fetched once you become familiar with parasite-stress theory.
Parasite-stress theory argues that the parasites and diseases encountered by humans over time have shaped our behavioral immune system, which is a suite of psychological mechanisms that allows us to detect and avoid pathogenic organisms. According to the theory, people who live in areas infested with parasites are more likely to think and behave in ways that minimize their risk of infection, including being less open to strangers and less extraverted.
For the interactive map, click here. Source: Economist Intelligence Unit.
Explanations for the causes of authoritarian governments often include exploitable natural resources, economic inequality, lack of culture, or the ramifications of colonial withdrawal. But the more scientists learn about how parasite prevalence affects psychology, the more these explanations seem incomplete.
In 2013, researchers Damian R. Murray, Mark Schaller and Peter Suedfeld conducted a study based on parasite-stress theory that examined the relationship between parasite prevalence and authoritarianism in countries. The authors explained their reasoning:
“Because many disease-causing parasites are invisible, and their actions mysterious, disease control has historically depended substantially on adherence to ritualized behavioral practices that reduced infection risk. Individuals who openly dissented from, or simply failed to conform to, these behavioral traditions therefore posed a health threat to self and others.”
(Photo: Getty Images)
The authors said that authoritarian tendencies in individuals serve a self-protective function, and these tendencies can temporarily increase when threats become psychologically salient. They noted that individuals who perceive the threat of infectious disease tend to:
(Photo: John Moore)
The results of the study showed strong correlations between parasite prevalence and authoritarianism – both at the state and individual level.
However, the key question was whether individuals with authoritarian traits brought on by parasite prevalence were, in some way, causing their governments to become authoritarian. So the researchers ran four mediation analyses using a bootstrapping procedure to find out. All four tests indicated that individuals were giving rise to and sustaining authoritarian governments.
“These results are consistent with the logical implications of the parasite stress hypothesis, and are inconsistent with an alternative explanation suggesting that the correlation between disease prevalence and authoritarianism is based solely on colonial establishment of state-level institutions,” referring to the possibility that the statistical relationship might be explained by the fact that colonial powers tended to set up long-lasting political institutions in low-parasite areas.
The results beg the question: Could authoritarian governments be eliminated over time by eliminating infectious diseases?
Some have questioned the study, but scientists continue to conduct research based on parasite-stress theory. Their studies have demonstrated statistical relationships between the prevalence of parasites and:
It marks another milestone in SpaceX's long-standing effort to make spaceflight cheaper.
- SpaceX launched Falcon Heavy into space early Tuesday morning.
- A part of its nosecone – known as a fairing – descended back to Earth using special parachutes.
- A net-outfitted boat in the Atlantic Ocean successfully caught the reusable fairing, likely saving the company millions of dollars.
Controversial map names CEOs of 100 companies producing 71 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.
- Just 100 companies produce 71 percent of the world's greenhouse gases.
- This map lists their names and locations, and their CEOs.
- The climate crisis may be too complex for these 100 people to solve, but naming and shaming them is a good start.
The world's richest people could breeze through a climate disaster – for a price.
- A new report from a United Nation expert warns that an over-reliance on the private sector to mitigate climate change could cause a "climate apartheid."
- The report criticizes several countries, including the U.S., for taking "short-sighted steps in the wrong direction."
- The world's poorest populations are most vulnerable to climate change even though they generally contribute the least to global emissions.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.