Arousal is faster than the Exciter (Stephan Grünewald, Kölner Stadtanzeiger)

Psychologist and founder of the rheingold Institute Stephan Grünewald explains why hamster purchases and hysteria are now taking place because of the coronavirus.

Mr Grünewald, the coronavirus spreads fear and terror. What do you notice as a psychologist?

The current concern is due to the fact that we are dealing with a foreign pathogen from distant Asia, about which we still know very little. We face an unknown danger that we cannot see, hear, smell, taste or feel. In other words, there seems to be no way to do anything about it. Such an experience of impotence is hard for us to bear, which is why we constantly want to ensure our own ability to act.

How, for example?

Through the hamster purchases, people demonstrate that they can take over the booklet of action. You have the sovereign feeling of being able to at least actively provide for it, if you cannot fully protect yourself. Especially since most people have heard that the disease is usually glamorous. However, what is definitely threatening is a 14-day quarantine.

But that means being locked up in your own home or in hospital for two weeks. On the one hand, this depressing thought also has something tempting: Finally get out of all the stress! Just do nothing without having to apologize for it. An involuntary and at the same time unpunished retreat into one’s own cocoon, which one otherwise otherwise affords in this way at most at Christmas. And what do people do before the holidays?

Stocking up on supplies?

flat. The hamster purchase secretly holds the hope of breaking out of the hamster wheel. What we are currently experiencing is similar to the pre-Christmas effort to equip one’s own domestic constitution in the best possible way. With enough carbohydrates in the cupboard, you can also save yourself from potential mood crises, relationship conflicts and camp collapses and feed yourself really nicely in trance. Added to this is the copycat effect. Even if we don’t plan to get worried, when shopping, we see others next to me emptying the shelves.

The arousal then spreads much faster than the pathogen.

It takes a few days, the arousal only a few seconds, until it grabs us and infects us with the idea: If I don’t immediately get hamsters, I won’t get anything in the end.

But at least the arousal is not as dangerous as the pathogen.

That is undoubtedly true. Nevertheless, a second source of danger is currently emerging for society. In addition to the pathogen, the arousal it triggers, which sometimes already makes psychological waves before the physical danger has even arrived. And everyone can contribute to ensuring that the arousal does not escalate further, as can be seen at present with increasing social hostility.

If someone clamours the last mouthguard or someone coughs around the office uncontrollably?

Exactly. Or when infected people are insulted, as they could dare to travel to Italy or to celebrate carnival in Heinsberg. And I get the pictures of the Turkish-Greek border that evoke memories of the refugee crisis of 2015.

Where do you see the link to coronavirus?
Investigations following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 have shown that, a few months later, a campaign against refugees pushing from the East to the West sought to deal with the experience of impotence in the face of radioactive contamination from the East. Refugees are visible, tangible and, if necessary, held by force. Such a humanization of danger and the rigid reactions could be repeated all too easily in the age of Corona.

Do you see opportunities as a society of excitement to master?

Very important: to call things by their names with objectivity and sobriety, to ensure transparency. I think the Health Minister is doing a good job. Very important are the small signs of a rational handling of the situation: hand washing, respecting the sneebening etiquette. This kind of thing reduces the feeling of impotence. And a third: stay in the conversation. By this I mean the right conversation – in the family, in the circle of friends and acquaintances, in the workplace. The sham communication in the virtual worlds of social networks, on the other hand, acts more as the perfect arousal accelerator.

The interview was conducted by Joachim Frank

Contact the author

Stephan Grünewald

The psychologist Stephan Grünewald from Cologne is founder of the market and media research institute rheingold. Grünewald was with the books "Deutschland auf der Couch" (2006) and "Die erschöpfte Gesellschaft" (2013) and "Wie tickt Deutschland?" (2019) bestselling author. Tel .: +49 221-912 777-17 E-Mail: