Posted on April 6, 2022

White People Feared COVID Less After Learning Other Races Were Hit Hardest, Data Show

Adrian Florido, NPR, April 4, 2022

New research finds that white Americans made aware about COVID’s racial disparities cared less about the virus themselves. The data have potential implications for public health messaging.


ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Earlier in the pandemic, when COVID’s rampage through Black and brown communities first started getting lots of press, Allison Skinner-Dorkenoo wondered whether all that attention could be a problem.

ALLISON SKINNER-DORKENOO: Thinking about the way in which it could actually sort of associate the virus with people of color and making white people less concerned about COVID-19.

FLORIDO: Skinner-Dorkenoo is a University of Georgia psychologist. And to find out whether this was actually happening, she and colleagues designed a study. They asked white people how aware they were of COVID’s racial disparities and then later how much they feared COVID.

SKINNER-DORKENOO: What we found was that the more people perceived there to be racial disparities, the less fearful they were of COVID-19, and the less they supported safety precautions to prevent the spread.

FLORIDO: The findings published in the journal Social Science and Medicine didn’t exactly surprise Skinner-Dorkenoo. There’s a long history of social psychology research showing white Americans tend to be less concerned about problems that mostly affect non-white people. But the results did concern her. {snip}


LAFLEUR STEPHENS-DOUGAN: I do think that has implications for public health messaging, and those are troubling implications.

FLORIDO: LaFleur Stephens-Dougan is a Princeton political scientist. She also surveyed white people early in the pandemic, with similar findings. And she’s wondered whether part of the solution might be more humanizing public health campaigns.