Risk Creep: A COVID-19 Longitudinal Field Study

31 Pages Posted: 19 Sep 2022

See all articles by Jennifer Logg

Jennifer Logg

Georgetown University - McDonough School of Business

Catherine H. Tinsley

Georgetown University - McDonough School of Business

Matthew Leitao

Georgetown University - Department of Psychology

Date Written: September 15, 2022

Abstract

How do norms evolve to influence behavior over time? The global COVID-19 pandemic introduced immense uncertainty; six months into the pandemic witnessed no foreseeable ending and no available vaccine. Given that people could not quarantine indefinitely, they needed to develop new social norms, rules of appropriate behavior. Across eight weeks, we tracked the behavior of university students as they returned from lockdown to campus at an east coast university. Students’ behavior is associated with both 1) social learning (what they saw others doing) and 2) experiential learning (reflecting on the perceived risk associated with their own past behavior). Social learning affects three types of discretionary activities outside of the home: exercising, socializing in smaller groups, and attending larger events. Controlling for a number of factors, regression results show that the more students see or hear about others doing one of these activities, the more likely they are to engage in that activity the following week. We call this gradual increase in precarious activity, “risk creep.” A creeping tolerance for risk for two of these activities also occurs within an experiential learning paradigm. Specifically, the riskier students judge their prior week’s behavior (which, on average, had little negative consequence), the more likely they are to leave their home the following week for exercise and large events. Together our results suggest that norms for discretionary activities evolve over time based on both social learning cues and experiential reflection of risk and consequences.

Significance:
How do norms evolve? During the pandemic, post-lockdown and pre-vaccine, it was not clear which behaviors were appropriate. Across eight weeks, we tracked people’s behaviors and perceptions to understand how risk perceptions, sensemaking, and decisions evolved over time. First, we establish a record of behavior outside of the home during this time. Second, we analyze correlates between these behaviors, observed norms, and perceptions of risk over time. Behavior is associated with both 1) social learning (what they saw others doing) and 2) experiential learning (reflecting on the perceived risk associated with their own past behavior). Both social and experiential learning are associated with a gradual increase in precarious activity, what we call “risk creep.”

Keywords: COVID-19 Norms, Risk Perception, Decision-Making

JEL Classification: D8, D80

Suggested Citation

Logg, Jennifer and Tinsley, Catherine H. and Leitao, Matthew, Risk Creep: A COVID-19 Longitudinal Field Study (September 15, 2022). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4219931 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4219931

Jennifer Logg (Contact Author)

Georgetown University - McDonough School of Business ( email )

Washington, DC
United States

Catherine H. Tinsley

Georgetown University - McDonough School of Business ( email )

3700 O Street, NW
Washington, DC 20057
United States
202-687-2524 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://explore.georgetown.edu/people/tinsleyc/

Matthew Leitao

Georgetown University - Department of Psychology ( email )

Washington, DC 20057
United States

HOME PAGE: http://mrleitao.com

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