How uncertainty and mixed social cues affect decision making in a pandemic

The reasons why some people don’t wear masks to protect themselves from COVID-19 and engage in other risky behaviors, including attending large gatherings, are complex and due to a number of factors, according to news reports.

A November 2, 2020 ProPublica article noted that most people have never lived through a pandemic and this inexperience, along with conflicting messages about how to best stop the spread of the disease, makes some prone to biases that affect their capacity for risk assessment. “We take a lot of cues from our environment,” said Lisa Robinson, senior research scientist at the Center for Health Decision Science (CHDS) at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “If I see a lot of people wearing a mask, I wear a mask.”

The article also quoted Eve Wittenberg, also a senior research scientist at CHDS, who discussed how an initial lack of testing and delays in test results heightened public confusion, which was further compounded by President Trump’s failure to urge people to wear masks.

Read the ProPublica article: How Your Brain Tricks You Into Taking Risks During the Pandemic