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What Should I Trust? Individual Differences in Attitudes to Conflicting Information and Misinformation on COVID-19

Filkukova, P., Ayton, P. ORCID: 0000-0003-2285-4608, Rand, K. & Langguth, J. (2021). What Should I Trust? Individual Differences in Attitudes to Conflicting Information and Misinformation on COVID-19. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 588478. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.588478


The COVID-19 pandemic constitutes a novel threat and traditional and new media provide people with an abundance of information and misinformation on the topic. In the current study, we investigated who tends to trust what type of mis/information. The data were collected in Norway from a sample of 405 participants during the first wave of COVID-19 in April 2020. We focused on three kinds of belief: the belief that the threat is overrated (COVID-threat skepticism), the belief that the threat is underrated (COVID-threat belief) and belief in misinformation about COVID-19. We studied sociodemographic factors associated with these beliefs and the interplay between attitudes to COVID-19, media consumption and prevention behavior. All three types of belief were associated with distrust in information about COVID-19 provided by traditional media and distrust in the authorities' approach to the pandemic. COVID-threat skepticism was associated with male gender, reduced news consumption since the start of the pandemic and lower levels of precautionary measures. Belief that the COVID-19 threat is underrated was associated with younger age, left-wing political orientation, increased news consumption during the pandemic and increased precautionary behavior. Consistent with the assumptions of the theory of planned behavior, individual beliefs about the seriousness of the COVID-19 threat predicted the extent to which individual participants adopted precautionary health measures. Both COVID-threat skepticism and COVID-threat belief were associated with endorsement of misinformation on COVID-19. Participants who endorsed misinformation tended to: have lower levels of education; be male; show decreased news consumption; have high Internet use and high trust in information provided by social media. Additionally, they tended to endorse multiple misinformation stories simultaneously, even when they were mutually contradictory. The strongest predictor for low compliance with precautionary measures was endorsement of a belief that the COVID-19 threat is overrated which at the time of the data collection was held also by some experts and featured in traditional media. The findings stress the importance of consistency of communication in situations of a public health threat.

Publication Type: Article
Publisher Keywords: 1701 Psychology, 1702 Cognitive Sciences
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Q Science > QR Microbiology
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
Text - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons: Attribution International Public License 4.0.

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