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Sonia Savelli studying risk communication and decision making during coronavirus pandemic


July 8, 2020

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Coronavirus Risk Communication: How Age and Communication Format Affect Risk Perception and Behaviors

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Sonia Savelli

Dr. Sonia Savelli, a principal research scientist in the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering, is the Principal Investigator on a new grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study how people make decisions based on complex risk information, and how communication about risk can help people make more informed decisions.

This project is one of several in the Department to receive a rapid research (RAPID) grant from the NSF, which has called for immediate proposals that have potential to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

Throughout the pandemic, the complexity and variability of information available to the public may lead to misunderstandings of risks associated with the disease. It may be difficult for individuals to assess their own risk of contracting and/or dying from the disease, and particularly difficult to understand the risk of passing it on to others. It is possible that people use an unconscious simplifying strategy focusing on the more dramatic and widely publicized death rates and assume that if they are younger, all risks, including those that they pose to others, are less. 

Dr. Savelli and her collaborators are studying the perceived risks associated with coronavirus across age groups to determine how risk perception impacts the decisions people make. 

Over the coming months, the team is designing and testing risk expressions that are understandable to members of the public. One goal of this work is to influence the design of future communication strategies that can be tailored for different audiences.

Co-Principal Investigator on the project is Susan Joslyn, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology, and Dr. Horacio Duarte from the UW/School of Medicine/Department of Pediatrics, Division of Infectious Diseases, is a collaborator. 

This project is one of several in the Department to receive a rapid-response research (RAPID) grant from the NSF, which has called for immediate proposals that have potential to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Review other projects involving HCDE researchers, here.