Your Health vs. My Liberty: Philosophical beliefs dominated reflection and identifiable victim effects when predicting public health recommendation compliance during the COVID-19 pandemic

Cognition 104649 (C) (2021)
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Abstract

In response to crises, people sometimes prioritize fewer specific identifiable victims over many unspecified statistical victims. How other factors can explain this bias remains unclear. So two experiments investigated how complying with public health recommendations during the COVID19 pandemic depended on victim portrayal, reflection, and philosophical beliefs (Total N = 998). Only one experiment found that messaging about individual victims increased compliance compared to messaging about statistical victims—i.e., "flatten the curve" graphs—an effect that was undetected after controlling for other factors. However, messaging about flu (vs. COVID19) indirectly reduced compliance by reducing perceived threat of the pandemic. Nevertheless, moral beliefs predicted compliance better than messaging and reflection in both experiments. The second experiment’s additional measures revealed that religiosity, political preferences, and beliefs about science also predicted compliance. This suggests that flouting public health recommendations may be less about ineffective messaging or reasoning than philosophical differences.

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Nick Byrd
Stevens Institute of Technology