Anticipating trajectories of exponential growth

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Humans grossly underestimate exponential growth, but are at the same time overconfident in their (poor) judgement. The so-called ‘exponential growth bias' is of new relevance in the context of COVID-19, because it explains why humans have fundamental difficulties to grasp the magnitude of a spreading epidemic. Here, we addressed the question, whether logarithmic scaling and contextual framing of epidemiological data affect the anticipation of exponential growth. Our findings show that underestimations were most pronounced when growth curves were linearly scaled and framed in the context of a more advanced epidemic progression. For logarithmic scaling, estimates were much more accurate, on target for growth rates around 31%, and not affected by contextual framing. We conclude that the logarithmic depiction is conducive for detecting exponential growth during an early phase as well as resurgences of exponential growth.
Original languageEnglish
Article number201574
Number of pages6
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 28 Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • pandemic
  • COVID-19
  • exponential growth
  • linearscaling
  • logarithmic scaling
  • contextual framing

Fields of Science and Technology Classification 2012

  • 501 Psychology

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