The Scale of COVID-19 Graphs Affects Understanding, Attitudes, and Policy Preferences

Forthcoming, Health Economics

19 Pages Posted: 29 Apr 2020 Last revised: 11 Sep 2020

See all articles by Alessandro Romano

Alessandro Romano

Bocconi University - Department of Law; Yale Law School

Chiara Sotis

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE)

Goran Dominioni

Yale Law School

Sebastian Guidi

Yale Law School

Date Written: April 29, 2020

Abstract

Mass media routinely present data on COVID-19 diffusion with graphs that use either a logarithmic scale or a linear scale. We show that the choice of the scale adopted on these graphs has important consequences on how people understand and react to the information conveyed. In particular, we find that when we show the number of COVID-19 related deaths on a logarithmic scale, people have a less accurate understanding of how the pandemic has developed, make less accurate predictions on its evolution, and have different policy preferences than when they are exposed to a linear scale. Consequently, merely changing the scale the data is presented on can alter public policy preferences and the level of worry about the pandemic, despite the fact that people are routinely exposed to COVID-19 related information. Providing the public with information in ways they understand better can help improving the response to COVID-19, thus, mass media and policymakers communicating to the general public should always describe the evolution of the pandemic using a graph on a linear scale, at least as a default option. Our results suggest that framing matters when communicating to the public.

Keywords: COVID-19, Public Understanding, Framing, Media

JEL Classification: D90, D91, I10, I12, I18

Suggested Citation

Romano, Alessandro and Sotis, Chiara and Dominioni, Goran and Guidi, Sebastian, The Scale of COVID-19 Graphs Affects Understanding, Attitudes, and Policy Preferences (April 29, 2020). Forthcoming, Health Economics, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3588511 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3588511

Alessandro Romano (Contact Author)

Bocconi University - Department of Law ( email )

Via Roentgen, 1
Milan, Milan 20136
Italy

Yale Law School ( email )

New Haven, CT
United States

Chiara Sotis

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) ( email )

Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

Goran Dominioni

Yale Law School ( email )

127 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511
United States

Sebastian Guidi

Yale Law School ( email )

127 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06510
United States

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