top of page

Search Results

15 items found for ""

  • Negative emotions and risk perceptions peaked the same month that looking at statistics also peaked

    In March, people were most likely to look up COVID statistics every single day. Negative emotions to COVID-19 peaked that same month. From May-December, emotions and looking at statistics every day then both remained fairly steady. It is still unclear whether negative emotions led to seeking out statistics or whether seeking out statistics led to negative emotions, as discussed in this New York Times piece. Scientists and clinicians can do their part to present statistics in ways that improve understanding, and consumers can also seek out information to help them use statistics more appropriately.

  • Perceptions of numbers of cases and deaths are underestimated but track actual cases and deaths

    We asked our participants to predict the numbers of infections in 2020 six times from February to December and to predict the number of deaths in 2020 five times from March to December. Numeric estimates of COVID-19 infections and deaths increased dramatically after March 2020. In March itself, however, when negative emotions were highest, our participants’ predictions of deaths and infections were quite low. Participants underestimated both deaths and infections, but their estimates increased as infections increased fairly well. Whereas the median estimate of infections was 13,500,000 by the end of the year, the actual number of infected in the U.S. in 2020 was over 20 million and the number of deaths exceeded 350,000 by December 31st. But estimates of cases and deaths didn’t correspond to people’s perceptions of their own likelihood of catching COVID-19 However, even as cases and deaths rose in April and later, participants’ estimates of their own likelihood of getting coronavirus remained steady. Logically, as cases rose, people should have thought that their likelihood of getting it was higher. These are the percentage who thought they were “somewhat likely” to “completely certain” to get coronavirus. Instead of relating to the numbers of cases and infections, the perceived likelihood of getting coronavirus tracked emotional reactions instead (see below). When people judged their own likelihood of COVID-19, they may have used their feelings to assess their risk more than they used the statistical rates of cases around them. These findings are consistent with the idea that knowledge of the numbers does not necessarily lead people to understand what those numbers mean for them. Indeed, as we’ve discussed in the New York Times, people who spent more time looking at statistics were more fearful and seemed to focus particularly on negative news, such as death rates vs. survival rates.

  • Trust in doctors & clinicians and scientists was high and remained high throughout 2020

    Doctors & clinicians, scientists, and the CDC were consistently trusted by most of our sample from March to December. In contrast, President Trump, the news media, and the American public were distrusted by the majority of our sample. Trust in President-elect Biden was lower than the CDC, doctors & clinicians, and scientists. This finding was due to trust in professionals being more bipartisan. Thus, these results provide a measure of hope—even in our increasingly polarized society, Americans still trust the experts when it comes to health recommendations . Our piece in The Conversation discusses in more detail why this trust is so important. However, even doctors are not immune from spreading disinformation as discussed in our piece on the Why Social Science blog and sometimes may need help in providing accurate numeric information to patients and others; see our “4 tips to help you figure out tricky stats” in The Conversation.

bottom of page