While the flu, Covid 19 and gastroenteritis have spread throughout Europe, a new study establishes that 3 out of 4 sick people prefer to hide their condition rather than cancel a work day or an outing with friends. At the risk of contaminating those around them.
Have you ever worked knowing full well that you were catching the flu? If the answer is yes, it certainly isn’t reasonable, but you are far from alone. In any case, this is the conclusion of a new study published in the journal Psychological Science a few days ago. Yes, those around you regularly lie about their state of health.
Nearly 8 out of 10 people keep quiet about their contagious disease
Researchers from the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan (United States) analyzed 10 studies on past, current and projected illnesses, and examined the prevalence and predictors of infection concealment, in samples of more than 4,000 adults, U.S. college students, healthcare workers, and online workers.
According to their observations, 75% reported hiding their infectious disease in their interpersonal interactions, possibly putting others at risk. With an interesting nuance: there is a difference in the way people think they act when they are sick and the way they actually behave.
So, “healthy people anticipated that they would be unlikely to hide dangerous illnesses – those that spread easily and have serious symptoms – but actively ill people reported high levels of hiding, regardless of harmfulness of their illness for others”, says lead author and researcher Wilson Merrell. In other words, if in theory you want to protect those around you from your virus, good resolutions quickly disappear when you are actually sick and this has to change your plans.
The fear of missing an event at the heart of this cover-up
But why lie about your state of health when you are sick with the flu or covid? According to the researchers’ observations, the reason is found more in the social bond than in the simple refusal to be sick. Even among healthcare workers, for example, 61% reported having concealed an infectious disease at work or in society.
If the pressure of work (and the lack of support linked to the waiting period for sick leave) partly explains this concealment, a majority of those who had already hidden their illness would have done so to avoid disrupting their social life. “The motives for concealment were largely social (e.g., wanting to attend events like parties) and achievement-oriented (achieving work goals),” the authors confirm. “After all, people tend to react negatively, find them less attractive, and avoid people with an infectious disease.” they conclude. “So it makes sense that we take steps to conceal our illness in social situations.”
We can only hope that contagious people use and abuse barrier gestures when they are in contact with their colleagues!