Correcting Perceived Social Distancing Norms to Combat Covid-19
45 Pages Posted: 12 Apr 2021 Last revised: 15 Oct 2021
Date Written: April 2021
Can informing people of high community support for social distancing encourage them to do more of it? In theory, the impact of such an intervention on social distancing is ambiguous, and depends on the relative magnitudes of free-riding and perceived-infectiousness effects. We randomly assigned a treatment providing information on true high rates of community social distancing support. We estimate impacts on social distancing, measured using a combination of self-reports and reports of others. While experts surveyed in advance expected the treatment to increase social distancing, we find that its average effect is close to zero and significantly lower than expert predictions. The treatment’s effect is heterogeneous, as predicted by theory: it decreases social distancing where current COVID-19 cases are low (where free-riding dominates), but increases it where cases are high (where the perceived-infectiousness effect dominates).
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