A timely sneeze made Americans more likely to back substantial government spending on health care than on job creation, a study concluded Monday.
A group of people interviewed at a Michigan shopping mall at the end of May, around one month into the flu outbreak and several years into the US economic downturn which has seen joblessness spike, was asked if they would rather that the government spend 1.3 billion dollars on flu vaccine production or on green job creation.
If the interviewer had just feigned a sneeze, into the crook of her elbow as advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48 percent of study participants said they backed the huge government investment in vaccine production, compared with just 17 percent of participants who were not exposed to a sneeze.
"Sneezing makes you worried," said University of Michigan psychology professor Norbert Schwarz, one of the lead authors of the study.
"There's a flu pandemic and your health is a very salient concern for you at that moment, and that shifts your spending priorities," Schwarz said.
That held true even in a state like Michigan, he said, where the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported unemployment was running at 15.3 percent in September, the highest rate for any of the 50 states.
Had swine flu not been in the headlines at the time of the study, sneezing would have elicited little more than a "reaction of disgust, if you even noticed it," Schwarz said.
Around 100 people were interviewed for the study, which was conducted in May, as swine flu began its planetary sweep after the World Health Organization reported a deadly outbreak of the new strain of H1N1 flu in Mexico.