Socially Optimal Mistakes? Debiasing COVID-19 Mortality Risk Perceptions and Prosocial Behavior

49 Pages Posted: 10 Aug 2020

See all articles by Martin Abel

Martin Abel

Harvard University

Tanya Byker

Middlebury College

Jeffrey P. Carpenter

Middlebury College - Department of Economics; IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Abstract

The perception of risk affects how people behave during crises. We conduct a series of experiments to explore how people form COVID-19 mortality risk beliefs and the implications for prosocial behavior. We first document that people overestimate their own risk and that of young people, while underestimating the risk old people face. We show that the availability heuristic contributes to these biased beliefs. Using information about the actual risk to debias people's own risk perception does not affect donations to the Centers for Disease Control but does decrease the amount of time invested in learning how to protect older people. This constitutes a debiasing social dilemma. Additionally providing information on the risk for the elderly, however, counteracts these negative effects. Importantly, debiasing seems to operate through the subjective categorization of and emotional response to new information.

Keywords: risk perception, prosocial behavior, debiasing, experiment

JEL Classification: C91, D91, H41

Suggested Citation

Abel, Martin and Byker, Tanya and Carpenter, Jeffrey P., Socially Optimal Mistakes? Debiasing COVID-19 Mortality Risk Perceptions and Prosocial Behavior. IZA Discussion Paper No. 13560, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3669489 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3669489

Martin Abel (Contact Author)

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Tanya Byker

Middlebury College ( email )

Middlebury, VT 05753
United States

Jeffrey P. Carpenter

Middlebury College - Department of Economics ( email )

Munroe Hall
Middlebury, VT 05753
United States
802-443-3241 (Phone)
802-443-2084 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://community.middlebury.edu/~jcarpent/index.ht

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Downloads
133
Abstract Views
563
rank
301,701
PlumX Metrics