Research Topic

Contagious Risks: Perception, Behavior, and Management - Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic

About this Research Topic

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, citizens and policy makers are confronted with a novel, ambiguous, and unexpected risk. The spread of the pandemic across the globe is difficult to predict. Some regions are affected quickly and severely, others far less. With the implementation of extensive lockdowns, new and substantial economic risks are emerging. The pandemic spread of a novel health risk and the subsequent economic risks demand complex decisions and trade-offs from policy makers, medical experts, and citizens. The human factor also plays a central role in the spread of the disease and its many health and economic consequences; for example, some people do not adhere to social-distancing mandates. Further, in anticipation of restricted travel and trade opportunities, closed borders and curfews, some began hoarding food, household items, and face masks. People’s risk perception and risky behavior become important variables to predict the pandemic spread, and the public reaction to policy measures aimed at containing it. Key questions to address include:

• How do people perceive contagious risks that are simultaneously communicated by experts in abstract ways (e.g., “0.4% mortality rate,” “1 million face masks ordered”) as well as experienced and observed in their daily lives (e.g., people affected in their social networks, empty supermarket shelves)?
• How do people update their risk assessment in light of new information and experienced outcomes?
• How do people make trade-offs between the health risk and uncertain economic costs?
• How do these assessments affect their trust in policy makers (and vice versa) and their compliance with recommendations and stricter policy measures?
• How do health professionals and policy makers allocate scarce resources, and what are the ethical considerations of these decisions?

Behavioral decision research provides many insights into risk perception and behavior, for example:

• Decisions made on the basis of described risk (e.g., statements by pundits) and experienced risk (e.g., daily observations) may diverge;
• Ambiguity about novel und unexpected health and economic risks with diverging expert views can influence decision-making;
• Loss aversion may prevent citizens and policy makers from reacting swiftly to the global health risk when cancelling long-anticipated events;
• Jogging at the nearest park is now a social dilemma.

While many of these aspects have been studied separately, they come together in an unprecedented and dynamically evolving way during the current crisis, making it hard to predict behavior and select appropriate risk management and policies. Actual outcomes are also difficult to judge without clear counterfactuals (e.g., how large would the mortality rate would be if a shutdown had not been implemented?).

This Research Topic therefore aims to focus on the aspects of risk perception, risky behavior, and the resulting implications for risk management, communication and policy response, specific to the dynamic contagious nature as experienced within the COVID-19 crisis. Theoretical, empirical, and experimental studies aiming to elucidate these aspects will be considered. Besides the domains of health and economic behavior, manuscripts studying trust, communication, and compliance in the context of policy response and crisis management are also welcome.


***Due to the exceptional nature of the COVID-19 situation, Frontiers is waiving all article publishing charges for COVID-19 related research in this Research Topic***


Keywords: risk, ambiguity, contagion, experience, social behavior, COVID-19


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, citizens and policy makers are confronted with a novel, ambiguous, and unexpected risk. The spread of the pandemic across the globe is difficult to predict. Some regions are affected quickly and severely, others far less. With the implementation of extensive lockdowns, new and substantial economic risks are emerging. The pandemic spread of a novel health risk and the subsequent economic risks demand complex decisions and trade-offs from policy makers, medical experts, and citizens. The human factor also plays a central role in the spread of the disease and its many health and economic consequences; for example, some people do not adhere to social-distancing mandates. Further, in anticipation of restricted travel and trade opportunities, closed borders and curfews, some began hoarding food, household items, and face masks. People’s risk perception and risky behavior become important variables to predict the pandemic spread, and the public reaction to policy measures aimed at containing it. Key questions to address include:

• How do people perceive contagious risks that are simultaneously communicated by experts in abstract ways (e.g., “0.4% mortality rate,” “1 million face masks ordered”) as well as experienced and observed in their daily lives (e.g., people affected in their social networks, empty supermarket shelves)?
• How do people update their risk assessment in light of new information and experienced outcomes?
• How do people make trade-offs between the health risk and uncertain economic costs?
• How do these assessments affect their trust in policy makers (and vice versa) and their compliance with recommendations and stricter policy measures?
• How do health professionals and policy makers allocate scarce resources, and what are the ethical considerations of these decisions?

Behavioral decision research provides many insights into risk perception and behavior, for example:

• Decisions made on the basis of described risk (e.g., statements by pundits) and experienced risk (e.g., daily observations) may diverge;
• Ambiguity about novel und unexpected health and economic risks with diverging expert views can influence decision-making;
• Loss aversion may prevent citizens and policy makers from reacting swiftly to the global health risk when cancelling long-anticipated events;
• Jogging at the nearest park is now a social dilemma.

While many of these aspects have been studied separately, they come together in an unprecedented and dynamically evolving way during the current crisis, making it hard to predict behavior and select appropriate risk management and policies. Actual outcomes are also difficult to judge without clear counterfactuals (e.g., how large would the mortality rate would be if a shutdown had not been implemented?).

This Research Topic therefore aims to focus on the aspects of risk perception, risky behavior, and the resulting implications for risk management, communication and policy response, specific to the dynamic contagious nature as experienced within the COVID-19 crisis. Theoretical, empirical, and experimental studies aiming to elucidate these aspects will be considered. Besides the domains of health and economic behavior, manuscripts studying trust, communication, and compliance in the context of policy response and crisis management are also welcome.


***Due to the exceptional nature of the COVID-19 situation, Frontiers is waiving all article publishing charges for COVID-19 related research in this Research Topic***


Keywords: risk, ambiguity, contagion, experience, social behavior, COVID-19


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

30 September 2020 Abstract
30 November 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

30 September 2020 Abstract
30 November 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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