Research Exhibits Individuals’ Blended Reactions to COVID-19 Well being Disparities

Americans are divided on their response to learning about the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a study published in Social Science and Medicine. The study found that white respondents who reported more negative views about black Americans in general were less likely to support large-scale government efforts to fight the pandemic, while white Americans who had more favorable views about black Americans were more likely to support those efforts.

The researchers conducted an online survey from August 2020 to September 2020 with a final sample of 3,961 demographically representative American adults. The study used “emotional thermometers” on a scale of 0 to 100 to have participants rate their attitudes towards other racial groups. Roughly 15% of the white survey respondents said they had a generally unfavorable view of black Americans.

After learning about health differences, white Americans with “warmer” feelings preferred a stronger public health response to blacks, while white Americans with a “cooler” view of blacks later viewed COVID-19 as a less pressing problem and less so tended to support strong public health policies.

“From a public health perspective, there is both good and bad news,” said Evan Lieberman, PhD, study co-author and political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in a press release. “To the [Black] Americans who learned from this study that death rates were higher among them [Black] Americans, this increased their perception that they were at higher risk from COVID[-19]. This is good news because a big part of the public health news is making people aware of these dangers. Second good news is that a large proportion of white Americans feel empathetic or close to black Americans. “

Some attendees were briefed on the health disparities caused by Covid-19 and that black Americans had 2.5 times as many deaths per capita as white Americans last summer. Respondents were then asked a series of follow-up questions about COVID-19 risk, government response, public health measures, personal freedoms and economic relief measures.

White respondents who reported unfavorable views about black Americans were most likely to think the government is doing too much about COVID-19, while those who are cheaper are most likely to think the government is doing too little. The researchers identified a similar pattern in terms of acceptance of certain public health measures, such as social distancing and restricted access to public facilities.

“It was telling that when they heard this information, that proportion of participants were no longer willing to respond to public health COVID[-19]”Lieberman said in the press release.” Whites who were cool to blacks at the start of the study were already relatively less inclined to support aggressive COVID[-19] Guidelines. So the overall effect of receiving the information was to further polarize attitudes towards these important guidelines. “

According to the study’s authors, the results are consistent with those of other studies that found that, for example, white American men disproportionately do not want to be vaccinated.

“This is a clear expression of a denial of the problem and a lack of interest in participating in a coordinated effort to achieve herd immunity,” Lieberman said in the press release. “They are not interested in a multiracial collective [solution]nor do they see themselves as particularly vulnerable. “

Researchers said they recognize that the study’s results may not be intuitive, as health officials place a high priority on making facts available to the public, while the results of their survey suggest that certain facts may lead to it that part of the population will be more indifferent.

“The best strategy would be targeted messaging,” Lieberman said in the press release. “More messages to remind us of the different kinds of connection we are all losing as this pandemic continues.”


The study shows mixed responses to COVID-19 health differences [news release]. EurekAlert; May 10, 2021. Accessed May 11, 2021.

Comments are closed.