Americans have heard it again and again. If people implement social distancing and responsibly self-quarantine, they may be able to save lives and curb the surge of coronavirus infections that could catastrophically overwhelm the country’s public health system.

But one thing remains unclear: Will they do it?

“One parallel is the 1918 influenza pandemic, but it took place during a different time, different media environment, and during a war,” said Scott Knowles, author of The Disaster Experts: Mastering Risk in Modern America and a history professor at Drexel University who focuses on disaster. “It took them a while to get to where we are today, with full-city shutdowns, though many cities did get there.”

Joshua Ackerman, an associate professor of psychology at University of Michigan, said that determining who will follow recommendations for social distancing is best understood by examining their motivations.

“Younger people tend to hold a greater sense of invulnerability than older people, which may make calls to socially distance based on personal safety relatively ineffective for this audience,” said Ackerman. Framing public health messages in ways that fit the motivations of specific audiences, he said, will result in better outcomes.

But, as Knowles and Ackerman both noted, people struggle with uncertainty.

“In situations like this one, where information is constantly changing, and a lack of clarity about the state of the problem inevitably exists, people usually experience a high degree of anxiety,” said Ackerman. “This response can crowd out the effort needed to think things through in deep ways, and instead lead individuals to seek quick, immediate answers in order to relieve the anxiety.”

Read the full article at the Daily Beast.