How UK Government Has Used Statistics to Influence Behaviour During the Covid-19 Pandemic

At the time of writing there are currently 161 cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 in my area, according to a page on the BBC website. That’s the same as 0.161% of the population.

Which statistic sounds more daunting?

Daniel Kahneman writes in Thinking, Fast and Slow that when formatting a probability, a frequency (e.g. 161 per 100,000) elicits a more emotional response than a percentage does. We picture 161 people that are infected, and therefore realize that there’s a threat. It’s much more difficult for us to imagine 0.161% as a threat, and formatting the statistic in this way makes it seem like Covid-19 is much less of an issue.

I believe that the UK government are familiar with this phenomenon, and have chosen to present statistics as total case numbers and frequencies per 100,000 of population (instead of percentages). Amid a national lockdown, the government of course wants compliance and this is a small detail that can influence the public perception of Covid-19.

I am not suggesting that the government have been deviant or unethical in any way, but the fact that the format in which statistics are written does influence the way that we think about things.

Published by

dongminglau

British-born Chinese guy who wants to inspire and help others by sharing wisdom and learning through one's own experiences. Main interests are health and fitness, psychology, sales and sports.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s