Correcting misperceptions of exponential coronavirus growth increases support for social distancing

Joris Lammers*, Jan Crusius, Anne Gast

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The most effective way to stem the spread of a pandemic such as coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is social distancing, but the introduction of such measures is hampered by the fact that a sizeable part of the population fails to see their need. Three studies conducted during the mass spreading of the virus in the United States toward the end of March 2020 show that this results partially from people’s misperception of the virus’s exponential growth in linear terms and that overcoming this bias increases support for social distancing. Study 1 shows that American participants mistakenly perceive the virus’s exponential growth in linear terms (conservatives more so than liberals). Studies 2 and 3 show that instructing people to avoid the exponential growth bias significantly increases perceptions of the virus’s growth and thereby increases support for social distancing. Together, these results show the importance of statistical literacy to recruit support for fighting pandemics such as the coronavirus.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16264-16266
Number of pages3
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume117
Issue number28
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jul 2020

Keywords

  • Comparison
  • Coronavirus
  • Exponential growth bias
  • Statistical literacy

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