IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

The scale of COVID‐19 graphs affects understanding, attitudes, and policy preferences


  • Alessandro Romano
  • Chiara Sotis
  • Goran Dominioni
  • Sebastián Guidi


Mass media routinely present data on coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID‐19) diffusion with graphs that use either a log scale or a linear scale. We show that the choice of the scale adopted on these graphs has important consequences on how people understand and react to the information conveyed. In particular, we find that when we show the number of COVID‐19 related deaths on a logarithmic scale, people have a less accurate understanding of how the pandemic has developed, make less accurate predictions on its evolution, and have different policy preferences than when they are exposed to a linear scale. Consequently, merely changing the scale the data is presented on can alter public policy preferences and the level of worry about the pandemic, despite the fact that people are routinely exposed to COVID‐19 related information. Providing the public with information in ways they understand better can help improving the response to COVID‐19, thus, mass media and policymakers communicating to the general public should always describe the evolution of the pandemic using a graph on a linear scale, at least as a default option. Our results suggest that framing matters when communicating to the public.

Suggested Citation

  • Alessandro Romano & Chiara Sotis & Goran Dominioni & Sebastián Guidi, 2020. "The scale of COVID‐19 graphs affects understanding, attitudes, and policy preferences," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 29(11), pages 1482-1494, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:wly:hlthec:v:29:y:2020:i:11:p:1482-1494
    DOI: 10.1002/hec.4143

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    File URL:
    LibKey link: if access is restricted and if your library uses this service, LibKey will redirect you to where you can use your library subscription to access this item

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Bursztyn, Leonardo & Rao, Akaash & Roth, Christopher & Yanagizawa-Drott, David, 2020. "Misinformation during a Pandemic," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 1274, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
    2. Adam Brzezinski & Valentin Kecht & David Van Dijcke & Austin L. Wright, 2020. "Belief in Science Influences Physical Distancing in Response to COVID-19 Lockdown Policies," Working Papers 2020-56, Becker Friedman Institute for Research In Economics.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Blog mentions

    As found by, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Chris Sampson’s journal round-up for 2nd November 2020
      by Chris Sampson in The Academic Health Economists' Blog on 2020-11-02 12:00:08


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Theologos Dergiades & Costas Milas & Elias Mossialos & Theodore Panagiotidis, 2021. "Effectiveness of Government Policies in Response to the COVID-19 Outbreak," Discussion Paper Series 2021_05, Department of Economics, University of Macedonia, revised Feb 2021.
    2. Blayac, Thierry & Dubois, Dimitri & Duchêne, Sébastien & Nguyen-Van, Phu & Ventelou, Bruno & Willinger, Marc, 2022. "What drives the acceptability of restrictive health policies: An experimental assessment of individual preferences for anti-COVID 19 strategies," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 116(C).
    3. Chiara Sotis & Miriam Allena & Renny Reyes & Alessandro Romano, 2021. "COVID-19 Vaccine Passport and International Traveling: The Combined Effect of Two Nudges on Americans’ Support for the Pass," IJERPH, MDPI, vol. 18(16), pages 1-17, August.
    4. Lyndal J. Trevena & Carissa Bonner & Yasmina Okan & Ellen Peters & Wolfgang Gaissmaier & Paul K. J. Han & Elissa Ozanne & Danielle Timmermans & Brian J. Zikmund-Fisher, 2021. "Current Challenges When Using Numbers in Patient Decision Aids: Advanced Concepts," Medical Decision Making, , vol. 41(7), pages 834-847, October.
    5. Beate Jahn & Sarah Friedrich & Joachim Behnke & Joachim Engel & Ursula Garczarek & Ralf Münnich & Markus Pauly & Adalbert Wilhelm & Olaf Wolkenhauer & Markus Zwick & Uwe Siebert & Tim Friede, 2022. "On the role of data, statistics and decisions in a pandemic," AStA Advances in Statistical Analysis, Springer;German Statistical Society, vol. 106(3), pages 349-382, September.

    Most related items

    These are the items that most often cite the same works as this one and are cited by the same works as this one.
    1. Jesper Akesson & Sam Ashworth-Hayes & Robert Hahn & Robert Metcalfe & Itzhak Rasooly, 2022. "Fatalism, beliefs, and behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 64(2), pages 147-190, April.
    2. Michael Bailey & Drew M. Johnston & Martin Koenen & Theresa Kuchler & Dominic Russel & Johannes Stroebel, 2020. "Social Networks Shape Beliefs and Behavior: Evidence from Social Distancing During the COVID-19 Pandemic," NBER Working Papers 28234, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Milosh, Maria & Painter, Marcus & Sonin, Konstantin & Van Dijcke, David & Wright, Austin L., 2021. "Unmasking partisanship: Polarization undermines public response to collective risk," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 204(C).
    4. Ströbel, Johannes & Bailey, Michael & Johnston, Drew & Koenen, Martin & Kuchler, Theresa & Russel, Dominic, 2020. "Social Distancing During a Pandemic - The Role of Friends," CEPR Discussion Papers 15593, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    5. Fuest, Clemens & Immel, Lea & Neumeier, Florian & Peichl, Andreas, 2023. "Does expert information affect citizens’ attitudes toward Corona policies? Evidence from Germany," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 78(C).
    6. Paolo Nicola Barbieri & Beatrice Bonini, 2021. "Political orientation and adherence to social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy," Economia Politica: Journal of Analytical and Institutional Economics, Springer;Fondazione Edison, vol. 38(2), pages 483-504, July.
    7. Mariani, Lucas Argentieri & Gagete-Miranda, Jessica & Rettl, Paula, 2020. "Words can hurt: how political communication can change the pace of an epidemic," OSF Preprints ps2wx, Center for Open Science.
    8. Wright, Austin L. & Sonin, Konstantin & Driscoll, Jesse & Wilson, Jarnickae, 2020. "Poverty and economic dislocation reduce compliance with COVID-19 shelter-in-place protocols," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 180(C), pages 544-554.
    9. Ingar Haaland & Christopher Roth & Johannes Wohlfart, 2023. "Designing Information Provision Experiments," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 61(1), pages 3-40, March.
    10. Faia, Ester & Fuster, Andreas & Pezone, Vincenzo & Zafar, Basit, 2021. "Biases in information selection and processing: Survey evidence from the pandemic," SAFE Working Paper Series 307, Leibniz Institute for Financial Research SAFE.
    11. Arda Gitmez & Konstantine Sonin & Austin L. Wright, 2020. "Political Economy of Crisis Response," Working Papers 2020-68, Becker Friedman Institute for Research In Economics.
    12. Delphine Boutin & Laurène Petifour & Haris Megzari, 2022. "Instability of preferences due to Covid-19 Crisis and emotions: a natural experiment from urban Burkina Faso," Working Papers hal-03623601, HAL.
    13. Felix Chopra & Ingar K. Haaland & Christopher Roth, 2021. "The Demand for Fact-Checking," CESifo Working Paper Series 9061, CESifo.
    14. Abel Brodeur & David Gray & Anik Islam & Suraiya Bhuiyan, 2021. "A literature review of the economics of COVID‐19," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 35(4), pages 1007-1044, September.
    15. Aksoy, Cevat Giray & Ganslmeier, Michael & Poutvaara, Panu, 2020. "Public Attention and Policy Responses to COVID-19 Pandemic," IZA Discussion Papers 13427, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    16. Diana Tsoy & Danijela Godinic & Qingyan Tong & Bojan Obrenovic & Akmal Khudaykulov & Konstantin Kurpayanidi, 2022. "Impact of Social Media, Extended Parallel Process Model (EPPM) on the Intention to Stay at Home during the COVID-19 Pandemic," Sustainability, MDPI, vol. 14(12), pages 1-32, June.
    17. Austin L. Wright & Geet Chawla & Luke Chen & Anthony Farmer, 2020. "Tracking Mask Mandates during the COVID-19 Pandemic," Working Papers 2020-104, Becker Friedman Institute for Research In Economics.
    18. Maxim Ananyev & Michael Poyker & Yuan Tian, 2021. "The safest time to fly: pandemic response in the era of Fox News," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 34(3), pages 775-802, July.
    19. Thomas G. Safford & Emily H. Whitmore & Lawrence C. Hamilton, 2021. "Scientists, presidents, and pandemics—comparing the science–politics nexus during the Zika virus and COVID‐19 outbreaks," Social Science Quarterly, Southwestern Social Science Association, vol. 102(6), pages 2482-2498, November.
    20. Chad Cotti & Bryan Engelhardt & Joshua Foster & Erik Nesson & Paul Niekamp, 2021. "The relationship between in‐person voting and COVID‐19: Evidence from the Wisconsin primary," Contemporary Economic Policy, Western Economic Association International, vol. 39(4), pages 760-777, October.

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:wly:hlthec:v:29:y:2020:i:11:p:1482-1494. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a bibliographic reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: Wiley Content Delivery (email available below). General contact details of provider: .

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service. RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.