Robert Hahn releases policy paper: “Fatalism, Beliefs, and Behaviors During the COVID-19 Pandemic”

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Senior Policy Scholar Robert Hahn presents new research on COVID-19 beliefs and behaviors with co-authors Jesper Akesson, Sam Ashworth-Hayes, Robert Metcalfe, and Itzhak Rasooly: “Fatalism, Beliefs, and Behaviors During the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

Little is known about individual beliefs concerning the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Still less is known about how these beliefs influence the spread of the virus by determining social distancing behaviors. To shed light on these questions, Hahn and his coauthors conduct an online experiment (n = 3,610) with participants in the US and UK.

Participants are randomly allocated to a control group, or one of two treatment groups. The treatment groups are shown upper- or lower-bound expert estimates of the infectiousness of the virus. The authors present three main empirical findings. First, individuals dramatically overestimate the infectiousness of COVID-19 relative to expert opinion. Second, providing people with expert information partially corrects their beliefs about the virus. Third, the more infectious people believe that COVID-19 is, the less willing they are to take social distancing measures, a finding the authors dub the “fatalism effect.” They estimate that small changes in people’s beliefs can generate billions of dollars in mortality benefits. Finally, the authors develop a theoretical model that can explain the fatalism effect.