UConn researcher finds optimistic bias slows preventative behavior

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listens during a briefing this Thursday, April 16, 2020. Trump organized an committee to organize reopening the country in order to stimulate the economy, despite continuing concerns of the COVID-19 spread.  Photo courtesy of Alex Brandon / AP Photo.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listens during a briefing this Thursday, April 16, 2020. Trump organized an committee to organize reopening the country in order to stimulate the economy, despite continuing concerns of the COVID-19 spread. Photo courtesy of Alex Brandon / AP Photo.


University of Connecticut communications professor and researcher,David Atkin, found overcoming optimistic bias and facing the facts can help lead to better, more prepared responses in a recent study proctored in China.  Photo courtesy of    UConn Today    website.

University of Connecticut communications professor and researcher,David Atkin, found overcoming optimistic bias and facing the facts can help lead to better, more prepared responses in a recent study proctored in China. Photo courtesy of UConn Today website.

University of Connecticut communications professor and researcher David Atkin found overcoming optimistic bias and facing the facts can help lead to better, more prepared responses in a recent study proctored in China. The work was done in collaboration with a former student at Zhejiang University.

The study gathered data from all 31 of China’s provinces found that “compared with information on COVID-19 released by medical providers and non-government organizations, government information sources had a greater influence on individual perceptions about the disease and behavioral change,” a recent press release said.  

Data was recorded between Jan. 31 and Feb. 4, when the virus was rapidly spreading throughout China.

An optimistic bias is the notion that when you’re positive about something, you tend to over-argue and believe you’re “invincible,” Atkin said, comparing it to a teenager going to a crowded beach during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s problematic to have people thinking they’re invulnerable,” Atkin said. “We have to be aware that folks who have an almost naïve bias are going to be more resistant to these messages about mitigation behavior such as six-feet distance, wash your hands and don’t go out. The key is to find an appropriate optimal level of threat to convey to people without demoralizing them about impending doom.”


Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses the state during a speech. Seven Midwestern governors announced Thursday, April 16, 2020 that they will coordinate on reopening their state economies amid the coronavirus pandemic. The latest agreement includes Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Kentucky.  Photo courtesy of Michigan Office of the Governor via AP Photo Pool.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses the state during a speech. Seven Midwestern governors announced Thursday, April 16, 2020 that they will coordinate on reopening their state economies amid the coronavirus pandemic. The latest agreement includes Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Kentucky. Photo courtesy of Michigan Office of the Governor via AP Photo Pool.

The most obvious example for Atkin was that of President Trump’s early response to the outbreak, citing a Washington Post article, explaining a report from the Committee to Protect Journalists that said Trump “dangerously undermined the truth” when attacking members of the news media who asked about his administration’s lack of response to the outbreak during the month of February.

Atkin said optimistic bias is something we all have, we just aren’t aware of the term.

“It’s something we’re all thinking of that we can make more concrete with the term,” Atkin said.

Atkin said there is no better time than during this pandemic to pay attention to optimistic biases. He hopes the word about this phenomenon will spread.

“The key takeaway is we need to engage audiences in multiple channels,” Atkin said. “We have to craft messages in a way that confront people honestly about the pandemic and can slice through their attitude where it won’t apply to them. Even if people think they’re younger, more robust and therefore no more likely than to have a few days of illness, they have to be aware of the enlightened self-interest of protecting those who are susceptible to illness.”

Thumbnail photo courtesy of Alex Brandon / AP Photo.

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Luke Hajdasz is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at luke.hajdasz@uconn.edu.

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