skip to main content

This content will become publicly available on June 28, 2023

Title: Scientific and Folk Theories of Viral Transmission: A Comparison of COVID-19 and the Common Cold
Disease transmission is a fruitful domain in which to examine how scientific and folk theories interrelate, given laypeople’s access to multiple sources of information to explain events of personal significance. The current paper reports an in-depth survey of U.S. adults’ ( N = 238) causal reasoning about two viral illnesses: a novel, deadly disease that has massively disrupted everyone’s lives (COVID-19), and a familiar, innocuous disease that has essentially no serious consequences (the common cold). Participants received a series of closed-ended and open-ended questions probing their reasoning about disease transmission, with a focus on causal mechanisms underlying disease contraction, transmission, treatment, and prevention; non-visible (internal) biological processes; and ontological frameworks regarding what kinds of entities viruses are. We also assessed participants’ attitudes, such as their trust in scientific experts and willingness to be vaccinated. Results indicated complexity in people’s reasoning, consistent with the co-existence of multiple explanatory frameworks. An understanding of viral transmission and viral replication existed alongside folk theories, placeholder beliefs, and lack of differentiation between viral and non-viral disease. For example, roughly 40% of participants who explained illness in terms of the transmission of viruses also endorsed a non-viral folk theory, such as exposure to cold weather or more » special foods as curative. Additionally, participants made use of competing modes of construal (biological, mechanical, and psychological) when explaining how viruses operate, such as framing the immune system response (biological) as cells trying to fight off the virus (psychological). Indeed, participants who displayed greater knowledge about viral transmission were significantly more likely to anthropomorphize bodily processes. Although comparisons of COVID-19 and the common cold revealed relatively few differences, the latter, more familiar disease elicited consistently lower levels of accuracy and greater reliance on folk theories. Moreover, for COVID-19 in particular, accuracy positively correlated with attitudes (trusting medical scientists and taking the disease more seriously), self-protective behaviors (such as social distancing and mask-wearing), and willingness to be vaccinated. For both diseases, self-assessed knowledge about the disease negatively predicted accuracy. The results are discussed in relation to challenges for formal models of explanatory reasoning. « less
Authors:
;
Award ID(s):
2027888 2055164
Publication Date:
NSF-PAR ID:
10344655
Journal Name:
Frontiers in Psychology
Volume:
13
ISSN:
1664-1078
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. In times of uncertainty, people often seek out information to help alleviate fear, possibly leaving them vulnerable to false information. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we attended to a viral spread of incorrect and misleading information that compromised collective actions and public health measures to contain the spread of the disease. We investigated the influence of fear of COVID-19 on social and cognitive factors including believing in fake news, bullshit receptivity, overclaiming, and problem-solving—within two of the populations that have been severely hit by COVID-19: Italy and the United States of America. To gain a better understanding of the role of misinformation during the early height of the COVID-19 pandemic, we also investigated whether problem-solving ability and socio-cognitive polarization were associated with believing in fake news. Results showed that fear of COVID-19 is related to seeking out information about the virus and avoiding infection in the Italian and American samples, as well as a willingness to share real news (COVID and non-COVID-related) headlines in the American sample. However, fear positively correlated with bullshit receptivity, suggesting that the pandemic might have contributed to creating a situation where people were pushed toward pseudo-profound existential beliefs. Furthermore, problem-solving ability was associated with correctly discerningmore »real or fake news, whereas socio-cognitive polarization was the strongest predictor of believing in fake news in both samples. From these results, we concluded that a construct reflecting cognitive rigidity, neglecting alternative information, and black-and-white thinking negatively predicts the ability to discern fake from real news. Such a construct extends also to reasoning processes based on thinking outside the box and considering alternative information such as problem-solving.« less
  2. Abstract

    COVID-19 creates an opportunity for science classrooms to relate content about viruses to students’ personal experiences with the pandemic. Previous researchers have shown that students are interested in crisis situations like disease outbreaks; however, they primarily acquire information about these events through internet sources which are often biased. We argue that it is important to understand student interest, concerns, and information-seeking behaviors related to COVID-19 to support science classroom learning and engagement about the virus and other potential outbreaks. We surveyed 224 high school students and analyzed their responses to six open-ended questions. We found that students expressed the most interest in topics related to the origin of COVID-19 and vaccines. Their greatest concerns included contracting the virus or someone they know contracting the virus and vaccine distribution. Of our sample, only 6.7% reported using their teachers as their source of COVID-19 information. Science classrooms have the potential to pique students’ situational interest by discussing COVID-19 topics that are important to students, which can increase their academic performance, content knowledge, attention, and engagement in learning about viruses. Moreover, classroom instruction about COVID-19 by teachers has shown to alleviate students’ stress and anxiety. We provide key areas of student interestmore »about COVID-19 to help educators address students’ questions and improve curricular resources on viral pandemics.

    « less
  3. Abstract Background We investigate the relationships among political preferences, risk for COVID-19 complications, and complying with preventative behaviors, such as social distancing, quarantine, and vaccination, as they remain incompletely understood. Since those with underlying health conditions have the highest mortality risk, prevention strategies targeting them and their caretakers effectively can save lives. Understanding caretakers’ adherence is also crucial as their behavior affects the probability of transmission and quality of care, but is understudied. Examining the degree to which adherence to prevention measures within these populations is affected by their health status vs. voting preference, a key predictor of preventative behavior in the U. S, is imperative to improve targeted public health messaging. Knowledge of these associations could inform targeted COVID-19 campaigns to improve adherence for those at risk for severe consequences. Methods We conducted a nationally-representative online survey of U.S. adults between May–June 2020 assessing: 1) attempts to socially-distance; 2) willingness/ability to self-quarantine; and 3) intention of COVID-19 vaccination. We estimated the relationships between 1) political preferences 2) underlying health status, and 3) being a caretaker to someone with high-risk conditions and each dependent variable. Sensitivity analyses examined the associations between political preference and dependent variables among participants with high-riskmore »conditions and/or obesity. Results Among 908 participants, 75.2% engaged in social-distancing, 94.4% were willing/able to self-quarantine, and 60.1% intended to get vaccinated. Compared to participants intending to vote for Biden, participants who intended to vote for Trump were significantly less likely to have tried to socially-distance, self-quarantine, or intend to be vaccinated. We observed the same trends in analyses restricted to participants with underlying health conditions and their caretakers Underlying health status was independently associated with social distancing among individuals with obesity and another high-risk condition, but not other outcomes. Conclusion Engagement in preventative behavior is associated with political voting preference and not individual risk of severe COVID-19 or being a caretaker of a high-risk individual. Community based strategies and public health messaging should be tailored to individuals based on political preferences especially for those with obesity and other high-risk conditions. Efforts must be accompanied by broader public policy.« less
  4. Beginning in early 2020, the novel coronavirus was the subject of frequent and sustained news coverage. Building on prior literature on the stress-inducing effects of consuming news during a large-scale crisis, we used network analysis to investigate the association between coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) news consumption, COVID-19-related psychological stress, worries about oneself and one’s loved ones getting COVID-19, and sleep quality. Data were collected in March 2020 from 586 adults (45.2% female; 72.9% White) recruited via Amazon Mechanical Turk in the U.S. Participants completed online surveys assessing attitudes and behaviors related to COVID-19 and a questionnaire assessing seven domains of sleep quality. Networks were constructed using partial regularized correlation matrices. As hypothesized, COVID-19 news consumption was positively associated with COVID-19-related psychological stress and concerns about one’s loved ones getting COVID-19. However, there were very few associations between COVID-19 news consumption and sleep quality indices, and gender did not moderate any of the observed relationships. This study replicates and extends previous findings that COVID-19-news consumption is linked with psychological stress related to the pandemic, but even under such conditions, sleep quality can be spared due to the pandemic allowing for flexibility in morning work/school schedules.
  5. Abstract: 100 words Jurors are increasingly exposed to scientific information in the courtroom. To determine whether providing jurors with gist information would assist in their ability to make well-informed decisions, the present experiment utilized a Fuzzy Trace Theory-inspired intervention and tested it against traditional legal safeguards (i.e., judge instructions) by varying the scientific quality of the evidence. The results indicate that jurors who viewed high quality evidence rated the scientific evidence significantly higher than those who viewed low quality evidence, but were unable to moderate the credibility of the expert witness and apply damages appropriately resulting in poor calibration. Summary: <1000 words Jurors and juries are increasingly exposed to scientific information in the courtroom and it remains unclear when they will base their decisions on a reasonable understanding of the relevant scientific information. Without such knowledge, the ability of jurors and juries to make well-informed decisions may be at risk, increasing chances of unjust outcomes (e.g., false convictions in criminal cases). Therefore, there is a critical need to understand conditions that affect jurors’ and juries’ sensitivity to the qualities of scientific information and to identify safeguards that can assist with scientific calibration in the courtroom. The current project addresses thesemore »issues with an ecologically valid experimental paradigm, making it possible to assess causal effects of evidence quality and safeguards as well as the role of a host of individual difference variables that may affect perceptions of testimony by scientific experts as well as liability in a civil case. Our main goal was to develop a simple, theoretically grounded tool to enable triers of fact (individual jurors) with a range of scientific reasoning abilities to appropriately weigh scientific evidence in court. We did so by testing a Fuzzy Trace Theory-inspired intervention in court, and testing it against traditional legal safeguards. Appropriate use of scientific evidence reflects good calibration – which we define as being influenced more by strong scientific information than by weak scientific information. Inappropriate use reflects poor calibration – defined as relative insensitivity to the strength of scientific information. Fuzzy Trace Theory (Reyna & Brainerd, 1995) predicts that techniques for improving calibration can come from presentation of easy-to-interpret, bottom-line “gist” of the information. Our central hypothesis was that laypeople’s appropriate use of scientific information would be moderated both by external situational conditions (e.g., quality of the scientific information itself, a decision aid designed to convey clearly the “gist” of the information) and individual differences among people (e.g., scientific reasoning skills, cognitive reflection tendencies, numeracy, need for cognition, attitudes toward and trust in science). Identifying factors that promote jurors’ appropriate understanding of and reliance on scientific information will contribute to general theories of reasoning based on scientific evidence, while also providing an evidence-based framework for improving the courts’ use of scientific information. All hypotheses were preregistered on the Open Science Framework. Method Participants completed six questionnaires (counterbalanced): Need for Cognition Scale (NCS; 18 items), Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT; 7 items), Abbreviated Numeracy Scale (ABS; 6 items), Scientific Reasoning Scale (SRS; 11 items), Trust in Science (TIS; 29 items), and Attitudes towards Science (ATS; 7 items). Participants then viewed a video depicting a civil trial in which the defendant sought damages from the plaintiff for injuries caused by a fall. The defendant (bar patron) alleged that the plaintiff (bartender) pushed him, causing him to fall and hit his head on the hard floor. Participants were informed at the outset that the defendant was liable; therefore, their task was to determine if the plaintiff should be compensated. Participants were randomly assigned to 1 of 6 experimental conditions: 2 (quality of scientific evidence: high vs. low) x 3 (safeguard to improve calibration: gist information, no-gist information [control], jury instructions). An expert witness (neuroscientist) hired by the court testified regarding the scientific strength of fMRI data (high [90 to 10 signal-to-noise ratio] vs. low [50 to 50 signal-to-noise ratio]) and gist or no-gist information both verbally (i.e., fairly high/about average) and visually (i.e., a graph). After viewing the video, participants were asked if they would like to award damages. If they indicated yes, they were asked to enter a dollar amount. Participants then completed the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule-Modified Short Form (PANAS-MSF; 16 items), expert Witness Credibility Scale (WCS; 20 items), Witness Credibility and Influence on damages for each witness, manipulation check questions, Understanding Scientific Testimony (UST; 10 items), and 3 additional measures were collected, but are beyond the scope of the current investigation. Finally, participants completed demographic questions, including questions about their scientific background and experience. The study was completed via Qualtrics, with participation from students (online vs. in-lab), MTurkers, and non-student community members. After removing those who failed attention check questions, 469 participants remained (243 men, 224 women, 2 did not specify gender) from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds (70.2% White, non-Hispanic). Results and Discussion There were three primary outcomes: quality of the scientific evidence, expert credibility (WCS), and damages. During initial analyses, each dependent variable was submitted to a separate 3 Gist Safeguard (safeguard, no safeguard, judge instructions) x 2 Scientific Quality (high, low) Analysis of Variance (ANOVA). Consistent with hypotheses, there was a significant main effect of scientific quality on strength of evidence, F(1, 463)=5.099, p=.024; participants who viewed the high quality evidence rated the scientific evidence significantly higher (M= 7.44) than those who viewed the low quality evidence (M=7.06). There were no significant main effects or interactions for witness credibility, indicating that the expert that provided scientific testimony was seen as equally credible regardless of scientific quality or gist safeguard. Finally, for damages, consistent with hypotheses, there was a marginally significant interaction between Gist Safeguard and Scientific Quality, F(2, 273)=2.916, p=.056. However, post hoc t-tests revealed significantly higher damages were awarded for low (M=11.50) versus high (M=10.51) scientific quality evidence F(1, 273)=3.955, p=.048 in the no gist with judge instructions safeguard condition, which was contrary to hypotheses. The data suggest that the judge instructions alone are reversing the pattern, though nonsignificant, those who received the no gist without judge instructions safeguard awarded higher damages in the high (M=11.34) versus low (M=10.84) scientific quality evidence conditions F(1, 273)=1.059, p=.30. Together, these provide promising initial results indicating that participants were able to effectively differentiate between high and low scientific quality of evidence, though inappropriately utilized the scientific evidence through their inability to discern expert credibility and apply damages, resulting in poor calibration. These results will provide the basis for more sophisticated analyses including higher order interactions with individual differences (e.g., need for cognition) as well as tests of mediation using path analyses. [References omitted but available by request] Learning Objective: Participants will be able to determine whether providing jurors with gist information would assist in their ability to award damages in a civil trial.« less