ebolaPULLMAN, Wash. – A combination of fear of the unknown mixed with a growing distrust of governmental agencies is behind American fears of Ebola, said a Washington State University researcher.

Graham Dixon, who specializes in risk communication in the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, said people can overreact to threats, especially when the threats appear to be out of their control.

“This follows along the same model of fear some people have of airplane flight,” he said. “No matter how many facts quantify the safety of flight compared to other forms of transportation, it’s that fear of being out of control that can elevate one’s perception of risk.”

Adding to the Ebola fear is a rising distrust of government agencies. Recently, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control helped to elevate that distrust with inconsistent messaging, said Dixon.

“From the beginning, the CDC has promoted a message that Americans are not at risk, which seems to fly in the face of reports that additional health care workers have become ill,” he said.

“Enlisting greater institutional trust and creating more consistent messaging can help reduce public fears” he said.

 

Contacts:

Graham Dixon, WSU Murrow College, 509-335-6547, graham.dixon@wsu.edu

Darin Watkins, WSU Murrow College communications, 509-335-4456, darin.watkins@wsu.edu