Testing for COVID-19: Willful Ignorance or Selfless Behavior?
Forthcoming, Behavioural Public Policy
26 Pages Posted: 7 Apr 2020 Last revised: 1 May 2020
Date Written: April 30, 2020
Widespread testing is key to controlling the spread of COVID-19. But should we worry about self-selection bias in the testing? The recent literature on willful ignorance says we should – people often avoid health information. In the context of COVID-19, such willful ignorance can bias testing data. Further, willful ignorance often arises when selfish wants conflict with social benefits, which might be particularly likely for potential “super spreaders” – people with many social interactions – given people who test positive are urged to self-isolate for two weeks. We design a survey in which participants (N=897) choose whether to take a costless COVID-19 test. We find that 70 percent would take a test. Surprisingly, the people most likely to widely spread COVID-19 – the extraverts, others who meet more people in their daily lives, and younger people – are the most willing to take a test. People’s ability to financially or emotionally sustain self-isolation does not matter to their decision. We conclude that people are selfless in their decision to test for COVID-19. Our results are encouraging – they imply that COVOD-19 testing may succeed in targeting those who generate the largest social benefits from self-isolation if infected, which strengthens the case for widespread testing.
Keywords: COVID-19, testing, willful ignorance, strategic ignorance
JEL Classification: D12, D64, D81, D83, D91, H12, I12
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation