Shinobu Kitayama, Robert B. Zajonc Collegiate Professor of Psychology

America’s fatal failure: Why have we done so poorly in coping with COVID-19?

Abstract: Over the last year, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) disrupted every aspect of society worldwide. However, the United States (U.S.) fared exceptionally poorly. Although it accounts for only 4.25% of the world population, it has suffered approximately 20% of the total infections and deaths by COVID-19. The failure of this magnitude may come as both surprising and alarming for the world’s largest economy. We must take this alarm seriously since even more, and potentially more contagious or lethal, wild animal origin diseases, called zoonotic diseases, may likely cause havoc on human civilizations in the years to come. It is urgent to critically examine why and how the U.S.’s fatal failure in its response to COVID-19 has come about. While this failure could be due, in part, to the lack of political leadership during the Trump era, the issue may be much deeper and more systemic. To explore such a possibility, we have examined COVID-19-related fatalities in different countries and different U.S. cities. I will supplement this analysis with the current social and cultural psychological evidence to conclude that some historical, social structural, cultural, and psychological factors have converged to make the country especially vulnerable to infectious diseases, including COVID-19.

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