Better than my neighbor? Testing for overconfidence in COVID-19 preventive behaviors in Latin America

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Date
2022-05-18
Authors
Boruchowicz, Cynthia
Lopez Boo, Florencia
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Citation
Boruchowicz, C., Lopez Boo, F. Better than my neighbor? Testing for overconfidence in COVID-19 preventive behaviors in Latin America. BMC Public Health 22, 1009 (2022).
Abstract
Procrastination and lack of attention may often hinder the implementation of preemptive actions necessary to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 like washing hands, covering nose and mouth with a mask, and keeping social distance. It is in such “easy” tasks that people (mistakenly) believe that they are better than others. In this paper we test for overconfidence bias in COVID-19 preventive behaviors in Latin America. Using a phone survey in nationally representative samples from 10 Latin American countries where randomly, half of the sample in each country was asked about self-reported compliance to COVID-19 guidelines, and half about preventive behavior of fellow citizens compared to them; we tested: if the proportion of individuals claiming that others comply with a certain measure “Always more frequent than me” is higher than those stating that they “Never” or “Sometimes” comply with the same measure (i.e. people believe they are better at doing something than what they actually are). Over 90% of Latin-Americans claim to always wear a mask and sanitize their hands and more than 80% state to always keep social distance. We also find evidence of overconfidence in every behavior – except for keeping distance in public transportation. Moreover, the magnitude of such overconfidence is higher for behaviors such as wearing masks in public or washing hands than for those regarding keeping the 2-m distance. To our knowledge, this is the first study to measure overconfidence in COVID-19 preventive behaviors in Latin America. Results show that more effort is needed to encourage people to comply with the regulation when it does not only depend on them: a better organization of closed stores and public transportation are, for instance, crucial to allow social distancing. It also suggests that a reinforcement of basic measures is essential, as individuals report to be performing them more frequently than when they have to think about such behaviors compared to others.
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