Honors Program Theses


Open Access Honors Program Thesis

First Advisor

Jiuqing Cheng, Honors Thesis Advisor


The COVID-19 pandemic has caused millions of cases and over half a million deaths in the United States.While health experts urge citizens to adopt preventative measures such as social distancing and wearing a mask, these recommended behaviors are not always followed by the public. To find a way to promote preventative measures, the present study examined the role of gain-loss framing of COVID-19 related messages on social distancing and mask wearing compliance. Moreover, the study also tested potential moderating effects on framing with three individual characteristics: political ideology, subjective numeracy, and risk attitude. A sample of 375 U.S. adult residents were recruited from Amazon Mechanical Turk. Each participant read either a gain or loss-framed message related to practicing protective behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants also completed scales of preventative behaviors, risk attitude, subjective numeracy, political ideology, and other demographic variables. It was found that those who were liberal, risk-averse and had greater subjective numeracy were more likely to wear a mask and/or follow social distancing. Furthermore, in the presence of demographic and psychological factors, the study found participants in the loss-framed condition than in the gain-framed condition were more likely to adopt both preventative measures, supporting the notion of loss aversion. Additionally, the framing effect was also moderated by political ideology on mask-wearing, with the effect being stronger in liberals than in conservatives. Collectively, the study implies message framing may be a useful means to promote preventative measures in the current pandemic.

Key words: COVID-19, mask wearing, social distancing, framing effect, risk attitude, political ideology, subjective numeracy

Year of Submission



Department of Psychology

University Honors Designation

A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the designation University Honors

Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (28 pages)



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