Nav: Home

Coronavirus: Social distancing accepted when people understand exponential growth

June 29, 2020

Researchers from the Social Cognition Center Cologne at the University of Cologne and from the University of Bremen report that participants in three experiments, each involving more than 500 adults in the United States, tended to assume the number of COVID-19 cases grew linearly with time, rather than exponentially. As a result, they underestimated actual virus growth. Interventions designed to help people avoid this bias led to an improved understanding of virus growth and increased support for social distancing measures compared with participants who did not receive such instructions.

The experiments were conducted by the social psychologist Dr Joris Lammers of the Social Cognition Center Cologne and the University of Bremen and his co-authors, the social psychologists Jan Crusius and Anne Gast, also from the University of Cologne. The article 'Correcting misperceptions of exponential coronavirus growth increases support for social distancing' has been published in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

The most effective way to stem the spread of a pandemic such as COVID-19 is what has come to be known as '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. Many social scientists see the root of this perception in what they call the exponential growth bias. 'In general, people have difficulty understanding exponential growth and erroneously interpret it in linear terms instead', explains first author Joris Lammers. The result is a gross underestimation of the growth of the infection rate and a misunderstanding of the potential to slow it down through social distancing. 'Our current work tests the role of exponential growth bias in shaping the public's view on social distancing to contain the coronavirus's spreading.'

Three studies were conducted during the mass spreading of the virus in the United States toward the end of March 2020. The first study focused on participants' understandings of linear growth, showing that many Americans mistakenly perceive the virus's exponential growth in linear terms. Interestingly, political orientation also played a role: conservatives were more prone to this misunderstanding than liberals. Studies 2 and 3 showed that instructing people to avoid the exponential growth bias significantly increases correct perceptions of the virus's growth and thereby support for social distancing. 'Together, these results show the importance of statistical literacy to recruit support for fighting pandemics such as the coronavirus,' said Lammers.

'Our results stand in contrast to earlier literature showing that the exponential growth bias is difficult to overcome', he explained. 'The reason for this is that the current study focuses on a threat with great personal relevance and media presence, which likely increases subjective availability and thus the estimated probability of the risk.'

Given that social distancing is the most effective way to combat the coronavirus currently available, these findings can have a significant impact: They show that bias, among other things, influences political opinions about matters of life and death, Lammers believes. Most important for team is to show the necessity of statistical literacy and to improve that skill among the general public.
-end-


University of Cologne

Related Virus Articles:

Virus prevalence associated with habitat
Levels of virus infection in lobsters seem to be related to habitat and other species, new studies of Caribbean marine protected areas have shown.
Herpes virus decoded
The genome of the herpes simplex virus 1 was decoded using new methods.
A new biosensor for the COVID-19 virus
A team of researchers from Empa, ETH Zurich and Zurich University Hospital has succeeded in developing a novel sensor for detecting the new coronavirus.
How at risk are you of getting a virus on an airplane?
New 'CALM' model on passenger movement developed using Frontera supercomputer.
Virus multiplication in 3D
Vaccinia viruses serve as a vaccine against human smallpox and as the basis of new cancer therapies.
How the Zika virus can spread
The spread of infectious diseases such as Zika depends on many different factors.
Fighting the herpes virus
New insights into preventing herpes infections have been published in Nature Communications.
Strategies of a honey bee virus
Heidelberg, 23 October 2019 - The Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus is a pathogen that affects honey bees and has been linked to Colony Collapse Disorder, a key factor in decimating the bee population.
Tracking the HI virus
A European research team led by Prof. Christian Eggeling from the Friedrich Schiller University Jena, the Leibniz Institute of Photonic Technology (Leibniz IPHT), and the University of Oxford has now succeeded in using high-resolution imaging to make visible to the millisecond how the HI virus spreads between living cells and which molecules it requires for this purpose.
Prior Zika virus or dengue virus infection does not affect secondary infections in monkeys
Previous infection with either Zika virus or dengue virus has no apparent effect on the clinical course of subsequent infection with the other virus, according to a study published August 1 in the open-access journal PLOS Pathogens by David O'Connor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and colleagues.
More Virus News and Virus Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

TED Radio Wow-er
School's out, but many kids–and their parents–are still stuck at home. Let's keep learning together. Special guest Guy Raz joins Manoush for an hour packed with TED science lessons for everyone.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#565 The Great Wide Indoors
We're all spending a bit more time indoors this summer than we probably figured. But did you ever stop to think about why the places we live and work as designed the way they are? And how they could be designed better? We're talking with Emily Anthes about her new book "The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of how Buildings Shape our Behavior, Health and Happiness".
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Third. A TED Talk.
Jad gives a TED talk about his life as a journalist and how Radiolab has evolved over the years. Here's how TED described it:How do you end a story? Host of Radiolab Jad Abumrad tells how his search for an answer led him home to the mountains of Tennessee, where he met an unexpected teacher: Dolly Parton.Jad Nicholas Abumrad is a Lebanese-American radio host, composer and producer. He is the founder of the syndicated public radio program Radiolab, which is broadcast on over 600 radio stations nationwide and is downloaded more than 120 million times a year as a podcast. He also created More Perfect, a podcast that tells the stories behind the Supreme Court's most famous decisions. And most recently, Dolly Parton's America, a nine-episode podcast exploring the life and times of the iconic country music star. Abumrad has received three Peabody Awards and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2011.