Math matters during a pandemic

Title: Math matters during a pandemic: A novel, brief educational intervention combats whole number bias to improve health decision-making and predicts COVID-19 risk perceptions and worry across 10 days

Authors: Clarissa Thompson, Jennifer Taber, Pooja Sidney, Charles Fitzsimmons, Marta Mielicki, Percival Matthews, Erika Schemmel, Nicolle Simonovic, Jeremy Foust, Pallavi Aurora, Tien Hong Stanley Seah, David Disabato, and Karin Coifman

Abstract: At the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic, our interdisciplinary team hypothesized that a mathematical misconception--whole number bias (WNB)--contributed to incorrect beliefs that COVID-19 was less fatal than the flu. We created a novel, five-minute online educational intervention, leveraging evidence-based cognitive science research, to encourage accurate COVID-19 and flu fatality rate calculations and comparisons. As predicted, adults (N = 1,297) randomly assigned to the intervention were more likely to correctly answer health decision-making problems and were less likely to report WNB errors in their problem-solving strategies relative to control participants. There were no immediate effects of condition on COVID-19 risk perceptions and worry; however, those in the intervention group did exhibit increased perceived risk and worry across 10 days of daily diaries. The intervention did not cause distress; instead, it increased positive affect. Ameliorating WNB errors could impact people’s risk perceptions about future health crises.

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POSTED: Saturday, February 6, 2021 12:16 PM
Updated: Friday, December 9, 2022 01:51 PM