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With Help From Psychology Professor Dad, 7-Year-Olds Run A Study


There is a new coronavirus study out posted by state college SUNY Plattsburgh. It's titled "Trustworthiness Of Online COVID-19 Preventative Messages." Here are three of the co-authors.

GINA: My name is Gina (ph). I helped Daddy with the computer.

ALEX: My name's Alex (ph). I helped prepare the numbers.

DANIELLA: I'm Daniella (ph). I helped make the charts.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Those are the 7-year-old triplets of psychology professor Jeremy Grabbe. They helped their dad collect the data and embellish the report with some very colorful graphs. Dr. Grabbe joins us now from his home in Glen Falls, N.Y. Welcome.

JEREMY GRABBE: Thank you. It's great to be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So how did you come up with the idea for this report?

GRABBE: Well, it kind of worked on some of my earlier research on trustworthiness of sources for climate change. And we had issues because the governor here in New York shut down the schools. And then when the arcades were shut down, my son said, well, you should listen to the governor. But I showed them another source - Admiral Dana Thomas, the Coast Guard chief medical officer - and she has said that we should, you know, wash our hands and do social distancing. They said, oh, well, we should trust her. And so it became kind of a study that we can do here at home as an experiment to help them understand the coronavirus and social distancing, as well as what I do for a living.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, I've got to tell you I feel for your son because a lot of us, obviously, would like to be at our favorite spots. What does this report try to show?

GRABBE: What we're trying to get at are people are going to view, who's the most trustworthy source when it comes to getting information and paying attention to that information about what you do with social distancing and dealing with the coronavirus?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So with the results of the study, here is your daughter, Gina.

GINA: Most people trust the doctors.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says most people trust the doctors. Elaborate a little bit more. What else did it show?

GRABBE: Well, it actually showed that, across the board, people still trusted the message of social distancing, regardless of the source. However, there are some sources that are rated more highly than others. The message we used of social distancing was from the CDC. But actually, one group was exposed to that message being presented by health care workers. And they rated the health care workers as much more trustworthy than the CDC and much more trustworthy than politicians.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Evidently, politicians didn't rank very high on the list of trusted sources.

GRABBE: No, they did not.


GRABBE: Well, one of the problem reasons here is that they might not have that specific expertise. You've heard the whole trope of the politician saying, well, I'm no scientist. Well, in this situation is that - and people say - might say, I'm no doctor. I'm no nurse. Well, why don't we listen to the doctor and listen to the nurse? And during this pandemic, we find that our heroes wear scrubs now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Hmm. What do you think the kids got out of this?

GRABBE: Well, I think they got some good quality time with dad.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Which is great.

GRABBE: Yep. And we also got to see ways of where - how we use science and scientific method, as well as it was integrating into their math homework, using the charts. And the other thing I think is that it really helped with a lot of their COVID-19 anxiety.


GRABBE: Well, early in the pandemic, my daughter was afraid that, when I went to the grocery store one time, that I wasn't going to make it back alive. And she was in tears when I came back home. However, with this study, they find that more people trust that message, and more people are engaged in social distancing, hand washing, wearing a mask. And they seem to be less anxious about the coronavirus and right now just more miss their classmates and their teachers.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I got to say, this will put some of us homeschooling parents to shame that you actually managed to do a report because even though this study is small, and it has some nontraditional-looking graphs created by the kids, the rest of it is presented like a professional academic report. Why was it important to keep it in that style?

GRABBE: Well, one reason is that the children didn't enjoy doing some of their writing homework from school, but I had to show them, yes, even daddy has to do his writing assignment. The other thing is that right now with the pandemic, science might need to be a bit more reactive. We might not have time for scientific review or just tweeting out some results. We might have to find other, more creative ways to getting important messages out there. And this may be something important not just now but also for science in the future to deal with whatever crisis we encounter.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So years from now, what do you hope they take away from this extraordinary time we're living through?

GRABBE: I think what they'll take away from this - kind of the results from the study here is that, by and large, people trusted in a message, and people worked together. You see it here even when people are far away, over - classes with Google Meets or various other things - that people can kind of work together as a team to fight whatever crisis comes our way.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What did they enjoy the most out of doing this, do you think?

GRABBE: They really liked making charts and finding ways to represent data. And they said, why don't I make all of my charts and my experiments in crayon?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) And your answer was?

GRABBE: Daddy can't turn things in in crayon. They don't like it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) That is Jeremy Grabbe, an associate professor of psychology at SUNY Plattsburgh. Thank you so much for joining us.

GRABBE: You're quite welcome. It was my pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF SQUARE PEG ROUND HOLE'S "A-FRAME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.