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Title: Impact of COVID-19 forecast visualizations on pandemic risk perceptions
Abstract

People worldwide use SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) visualizations to make life and death decisions about pandemic risks. Understanding how these visualizations influence risk perceptions to improve pandemic communication is crucial. To examine how COVID-19 visualizations influence risk perception, we conducted two experiments online in October and December of 2020 (N= 2549) where we presented participants with 34 visualization techniques (available at the time of publication on the CDC’s website) of the same COVID-19 mortality data. We found that visualizing data using a cumulative scale consistently led to participants believing that they and others were at more risk than before viewing the visualizations. In contrast, visualizing the same data with a weekly incident scale led to variable changes in risk perceptions. Further, uncertainty forecast visualizations also affected risk perceptions, with visualizations showing six or more models increasing risk estimates more than the others tested. Differences between COVID-19 visualizations of the same data produce different risk perceptions, fundamentally changing viewers’ interpretation of information.

 
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Award ID(s):
1730396
NSF-PAR ID:
10363426
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ;
Publisher / Repository:
Nature Publishing Group
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Scientific Reports
Volume:
12
Issue:
1
ISSN:
2045-2322
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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    Methods

    Female twins (N = 158;Mage = 22.13) from the Michigan State University Twin Registry rated financial stressors (e.g., inability to afford necessities) daily for 49 consecutive days during COVID‐19. We first examined whether financial hardship was associated with BE phenotypes across the full sample. We then examined whether cotwins who differed on financial hardship also differed in BE.

    Results

    Participants who experienced greater mean financial hardship across the study had significantly greater dimensional BE symptoms, and participants who experienced greater financial hardship on a given day reported significantly more emotional eating that day. These results were replicated in cotwin control analyses. Twins who experienced more financial hardship than their cotwin across the study reported greater dimensional BE symptoms than their cotwin, and participants who experienced more financial hardship than their cotwin on a given day reported greater emotional eating that day. Results were identical when restricting analyses to monozygotic twins, suggesting associations were not due to genetic confounds.

    Conclusions

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    Methods

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    Results

    Women, those who identified as Hispanic/Latinx, Black Americans and lower income participants reported higher overall rates of distress than others. Information seeking was more common among older persons, Democrats, retirees, those with higher education, and those who knew people who had died of COVID-19. Controlling for such demographic variables, in multivariable longitudinal models that included baseline mental health measures, distress and fear were associated with increased information seeking. Distress and fear were also associated with increased risk perception, and feelings of hopelessness were associated with lower reported mask-wearing ability.

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