United States and South Korean citizens’ interpretation and assessment of COVID-19 quantitative data

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COVID-19, Graphs, Representations of quantitative data, Rate of change, Exponential growth


We investigate United States and South Korean citizens’ mathematical schemes and how these schemes supported or hindered their attempts to assess the severity of COVID-19. We selected web and media-based COVID-19 data representations that we hypothesized citizens would interpret differently depending on their mathematical schemes. We included items that we conjectured would be easier or more difficult to interpret with schemes that prior research had reported were more or less productive, respectively. We used the representations during clinical interviews with 25 United States and seven South Korean citizens. We illustrate that citizens’ mathematical schemes (as well as their beliefs) impacted how they assessed the severity of COVID-19. We present vignettes of citizens’ schemes that inhibited interpreting representations of COVID-19 in ways compatible with the displayed quantitative data, schemes that aided them in assessing the severity of COVID-19, and beliefs about the reliability of scientific data that overrode their mathematical conclusions.