If you travel much at all, you know some parts of a country are populated by mostly friendly people and some parts … well, you’re glad to be just passing through. Now, biologists are showing that a geographical history of disease has a big bearing on how welcoming people are to strangers.
According to Smithsonian magazine:
In a series of high-profile papers, biologists Corey Fincher and Randy Thornhill, both at the University of New Mexico, and Mark Schaller and Damian Murray of the University of British Columbia argue that one factor, disease, ultimately determines much of who we are and how we behave.
... Consistently, in regions where deadly diseases are more common, people are more xenophobic, more strongly focused on the welfare of their group, and less likely to be nice to strangers. Where diseases are more prevalent, individuals are less open to meeting strangers and to new experiences. Where diseases are more prevalent, cultures and languages differ more from one another. Sure enough, all of the scientists' predictions seem to hold, or at least to not be easily refuted. If you meet someone who is wary or even openly hostile to you, who bows or shake hands rather than kisses and in general keeps their distance, chances are they come from someplace with a terrible prevalence of disease.
In writing the article, Rob Dunn ~ himself a biologist at North Carolina State University and the author of "Every Living Thing: Man's Obsessive Quest to Catalog Life, from Nanobacteria to New Monkeys" ~ concludes:
In the meantime, we go on living our lives, imagining that we decide for ourselves who we are and how to act. But when the flu comes back this fall, watch your neighbors. Watch to see if their actions change. If Fincher and Thornhill are right, wherever the flu strikes, people will become more wary of strangers. Hands once extended freely will search for pockets. Where the disease is worst, the changes will be most rapid and extreme. Whole countries may even shutter their borders. Because while it is very hard to predict the evolution of H1N1 and the deaths it will cause, at least to Fincher the changes in our own actions may be more foreseeable. We are like small boats, pushed and pulled in the tides of disease.
Click here for the Smithsonian article.