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Imagination Exercise Helps People Get a Grip on Real Pandemic Risks

Thursday, August 5, 2021
By Karl Leif Bates
Graphic showing that underestimators of risk and overestimators changed their views to be more in line with actual risks. (Credit: Dallas Clemons)

Combining local and very real risk statistics for SARS-CoV-2 infection with an exercise in imagination helped participants in a Duke University psychology study make more realistic decisions about their own risky behaviors, according a pair of new papers co-authored by Alison Adcock, MD, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and director of Duke’s Center for Cognitive Neuroscience.

Study participants from all over the country who had dismissed their risks of Covid-19 and those who had perhaps over-responded to the danger both rethought their personal decisions after going through the imagination exercise. Three weeks later, their attitude adjustments still held.

The experimental intervention is now being integrated into a publicly accessible data dashboard through a collaboration between the Duke team and scientists at Georgia Tech University. The project is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to see if it could help more people properly calibrate their risks and behaviors during the pandemic.

The studies, which appear this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Nature Aging, drew on established science about memory and decision-making.

“This is a great example of how discoveries we make while trying to understand the basic workings of the human brain can give us new tools to help us live better lives.”
Alison Adcock, MD, PhD

Read the full article on Duke Today.