Organizational Dynamics Working Papers

Document Type

Working Paper

Date of this Version



Working Paper #20-01


As the global pandemic of COVID-19 expands, it is worthwhile to understand some of the features of past pandemics and the ways in which current behaviors replicate previous societal dysfunctions during times of disease crisis. Pandemics: A Very Short Introduction by Christian W. McMillen offers an excellent overview of plagues and pandemics throughout history, including smallpox, malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, and Influenza, and serves as a jumping-off point for this paper’s discussion of current reactions to COVID-19. This paper looks at similarities between societal responses to our current pandemic and past reactions to plagues and pandemics as viewed through a psychological lens. The world’s lack of preparedness for the Covid-19 pandemic, despite ample warnings, is interpreted as a combination of denial and magical thinking. Plague as hoax and punishment are viewed as examples of flight behavior. The rebellion against the current pandemic and increased belief in pseudoscience are interpreted as fight behavior. The current ways of coping with the pandemic that are inappropriate and dysfunctional are seen as desperate psychological measures employed to avoid coping honestly with anxiety, fear, feelings of impotence, and uncertainty. The article ends with a brief discussion about how the poor and oppressed always suffer the most during plagues and pandemics.


pandemic, Covid-19, reaction to pandemic, flight behavior, fight behavior, anxiety, fear, magical thinking, denial



Date Posted: 29 July 2020