Math Matters: A Novel, Brief Educational Intervention Decreases Whole Number Bias When Reasoning About COVID-19

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At the onset of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) global pandemic, our interdisciplinary team hypothesized that a mathematical misconception—whole number bias (WNB)—contributed to beliefs that COVID-19 was less fatal than the flu. We created a brief online educational intervention for adults, leveraging evidence-based cognitive science research, to promote accurate understanding of rational numbers related to COVID-19. Participants from a Qualtrics panel (N = 1,297; 75% White) were randomly assigned to an intervention or control condition, solved health-related math problems, and subsequently completed 10 days of daily diaries in which health cognitions and affect were assessed. Participants who engaged with the intervention, relative to those in the control condition, were more accurate and less likely to explicitly mention WNB errors in their strategy reports as they solved COVID-19-related math problems. Math anxiety was positively associated with risk perceptions, worry, and negative affect immediately after the intervention and across the daily diaries. These results extend the benefits of worked examples in a practically relevant domain. Ameliorating WNB errors could not only help people think more accurately about COVID-19 statistics expressed as rational numbers, but also about novel future health crises, or any other context that involves information expressed as rational numbers.

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The Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied





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In Copyright