Rutgers University–Newark (United States)


One of the key factors in compliance with costly and disruptive public health and other public policy interventions may be whether the general public regard the intervention as an overreaction or an appropriate response. While previous research has examined objective or expert judgments of “overreaction” in very constrained cases, there is no research on lay judgments of whether an intervention is an overreaction. We propose four studies to understand the generalizable cognitive processes underlying judgments of overreaction in order to provide guidance for crisis communication not only in the current pandemic, but future crises as well. Studies 1-3 use fictional cases that allow us to manipulate specific factors without the risk of providing misinformation to participants about current conditions. We will present participants with costly interventions addressing bad outcomes and examine their prospective and retrospective judgments of whether these outcomes were appropriate, overreactions, or insufficient. These studies test five factors that are predicted to affect judgments of overreaction according to two recent theoretical models that have never been directly compared. Study 4 then examines judgments of the interventions against the Covid-19 pandemic at the time that Study 4 is conducted, self-reported compliance with those interventions, and probe questions targeting the factors that were identified as most relevant in Studies 1-3. We hope to identify factors that can be applied to both current and future crises to guide communicators in how best to present drastic interventions for the public good in ways that will encourage compliance.

Principal Investigators

Jonathan Kominsky

Postdoctoral Associate, Psychology Department, Rutgers University–Newark

Jonathan F. Kominsky is a postdoctoral researcher in the Computational Cognitive Development Lab at Rutgers University – Newark. Jonathan got his BA in Psychology from Reed College, PhD in Developmental Psychology from Yale University, and completed an NIH NRSA postdoctoral fellowship at the Harvard Lab for Developmental Studies. He studies how the human mind understands cause and effect: How we extract causal information from the world, how we represent information about causal events and causal systems, how we use that causal information in our reasoning and judgment, and how these abilities emerge and change over the lifespan.

Elizabeth Bonawitz

Associate Professor, Rutgers University–Newark

Dr. Bonawitz's research bridges two research traditions: Cognitive Development and Computational Modeling. By bridging these methods, she seeks to understand the structure of children's early causal beliefs, how evidence and prior beliefs interact to affect children's learning, and the developmental processes that influence children's belief revision. Dr. Bonawitz's research is funded by several grants from the National Science Foundation, the Jacobs Foundation, and the McDonnell Foundation.