Article Thumbnail

People Like to Get Dressed Up When There’s Sickness in the Air

The good, the bad and the ugly things we learned about our bodies today

Ever notice how people seem to dress nicer, and generally take better care of themselves during flu season? No? Me neither. But science says that’s exactly what happens.

Well, not flu season specifically. According to this study in the journal Psychological Science, just thinking about germs seems to increase people’s concerns about their own physical appearance. And the phenomenon is more acute when that person is a germaphobe.

The reason, it seems to be, is due to something researchers call the “behavioral immune system,” which kicks into gear when we’re threatened with the possibility of contagion. “The behavioral immune system helps us search out signs of infection in others, even signs that are innocuous and don’t actually indicate infection, and often leads us to avoid those people,” says Joshua M. Ackerman, lead researcher on the study. “Our findings show that when people are worried about pathogens, they also evaluate their own physical appearance, which motivates them to pursue behaviors and products intended to improve appearance, including exercise, makeup, and plastic surgery.” Why people decide to care about their looks, and not their health, is still a mystery, however.

One way researchers think their findings may benefit humanity is by making us feel more positive about our appearance as we alleviate concerns about disease — which already feels like bullshit, considering we’ve made radical advances in medicine over the last 100 years and we’re still obsessed with how we look, maybe even more so. But I digress.

A few other things we learned about our bodies today: