Carnegie Mellon University
March 19, 2020

Baruch Fischhoff featured in The Atlantic about COVID-19

Last weekend, hordes of Americans still turned out to dine and drink, the coronavirus be damned. EPP's Baruch Fischhoff talks to The Atlantic to discuss the different psychological factors that explain why many crowds still gathered last weekend, in spite of warnings of COVID-19. 

He says, first: “There are very few reported cases in most places, so maybe people [think], ‘This is still not here yet,’” he said. “If you haven’t been following the fact that we haven’t been testing [very much], you might not realize how deceiving the reported cases are.”

Second, and relatedly, Fischhoff said, people tend to underestimate the speed at which exponential processes—such as a disease outbreak—unfold. “You really can’t trust your intuitions,” he said.

Also, Fischhoff guessed, people who do go out probably overrate their own control over whether they get sick. “One of the ways that we exaggerate [our own power] is not realizing how often we touch our face … and how many other people touch the things that we touch,” he said.

Taking cues from politicians underestimating the severity of this disease could also cause people to not self-isolate. People can be especially open to recommendations like this if they perceive their values to be in line with the recommender’s, Fischhoff said.

For more information on COVID-19 and to read the full article, go here.