Testing for COVID-19: Willful Ignorance or Selfless Behavior?

Forthcoming, Behavioural Public Policy

26 Pages Posted: 7 Apr 2020 Last revised: 1 May 2020

See all articles by Linda Thunstrom

Linda Thunstrom

University of Wyoming

Madison Ashworth

University of Wyoming

Jason F. Shogren

University of Wyoming

Stephen Newbold

University of Wyoming - College of Business - Department of Economics and Finance

David Finnoff

University of Wyoming

Date Written: April 30, 2020

Abstract

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

Thunstrom, Linda and Ashworth, Madison and Shogren, Jason F. and Newbold, Stephen and Finnoff, David, Testing for COVID-19: Willful Ignorance or Selfless Behavior? (April 30, 2020). Forthcoming, Behavioural Public Policy , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3570306 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3570306

Linda Thunstrom (Contact Author)

University of Wyoming ( email )

P.O. Box 3985
Laramie, WY 82071-3985
United States

Madison Ashworth

University of Wyoming ( email )

Box 3434 University Station
Laramie, WY 82070
United States

Jason F. Shogren

University of Wyoming ( email )

Department of Economics
BU292
Laramie, WY 82071-3985
United States
307-766-5430 (Phone)
307-766-5090 (Fax)

Stephen Newbold

University of Wyoming - College of Business - Department of Economics and Finance ( email )

P.O. Box 3985
Laramie, WY 82071-3985
United States

David Finnoff

University of Wyoming ( email )

1000 E University Ave
Laramie, WY 82071
United States

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