Exponential growth bias may be affecting our reaction to COVID-19

Exponential growth bias may be affecting our reaction to COVID-19

A simple mathematical mistake may explain why many people underestimate the dangers of , shunning social distancing, masks, and hand-washing.

Many people consistently underestimate how fast the value increases – a mistake known as the “exponential growth bias” – and while it may seem abstract, it may have had profound consequences for people’s behavior this year.

A spate of studies has shown that people who are susceptible to the exponential growth bias are less concerned about ’s spread, and less likely to endorse measures like social distancing, hand washing, or mask-wearing. In other words, this simple mathematical error could be costing lives – meaning that the correction of the bias should be a priority as we attempt to flatten curves and avoid second waves of the around the world.

The researchers speculate that some of the graphical representations found in the media may have been counter-productive. It’s common for the number of infections to be presented on a “logarithmic scale”, in which the figures on the y-axis increase by a power of 10 (so the gap between 1 and 10 is the same as the gap between 10 and 100, or 100 and 1000).

While this makes it easier to plot different regions with low and high growth rates, it means that exponential growth looks more linear than it really is, which could reinforce the exponential growth bias.

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200812-exponential-growth-bias-the-numerical-error-behind-covid-19

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