Seminar #6 | «Deconfined Talks II»

Reasons for anxiety during the populist pandemic

Cristiano Gianolla (CES)

July 27, 2021, 16h00 (GMT +01:00)

Online event

Comments: Sílvia Roque | Moderator: Gaia Giuliani


The pandemic has created a set of health, social and economic challenges that were met with supposedly rational solutions driven by the anxiety created by SARS-COV-2. Under these conditions, even some scientific responses have proven contradictory over time, for example the initial dispute over whether or not to wear masks, or to use a certain vaccine only under and then only over a certain age. This indicates that the level of rationality of a given rational response is conditioned by a set of emotional attitudes, in society as in the individual.

Adopting the understanding of cognitive functioning defined from neuroscience, we can distinguish three emotional systems: the “fight/flight” immediate response system, the “disposition” system that allows us to learn and set habits, and the “vigilance” system that alerts us when certain circumstances are unsafe. According to some scientists, the third are the most relevant emotional systems for the study of emotions in politics and define respectively the degree of enthusiasm/depression and the degree of anxiety in concrete situations.
Although anxiety is considered an emotion of negative valence as it is disaggregable, it “awakens” reason in contexts in which the pure perpetuation of habits can lead to negative consequences. Populist phenomena are studied for making broad appeal to negative emotions such as anger and fear. It is relevant to examine how these phenomena appeal to anxiety in the pandemic context where it is already widely and generally spread. It is also necessary to examine how the populist appeal to anxiety leads to rational responses and how these are different with respect to the responses offered by other parties and political leaderships.

This work is funded by the foundation for Science and Technology (FCT/MEC) through national funds within the UNPOP project "UNpacking POPulism: Comparing the formation of emotion narratives and their effects on political behaviour" (PTDC/CPOCPO/3850/2020) and by FCT Programme Funding (UIDP/50012/2020).

6th session of the seminar series «Deconfined Talks II».


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