Faculty Publication: Associate Professor and Chair of Psychology Laurel Peterson

September 19, 2023

Why Do U.S. Conservatives Take Fewer COVID-19 Precautions? The Role of Worry, Perceived Risk, and Governmental Trust

Authors: Helweg-Larsen, Marie; Peterson, Laurel M.; DiMuccio, Sarah H.

Source: Social and Personality Psychology Compass, DOI: 10.1111/spc3.12873, August 2023

Type of Publication: Article

Abstract: Research suggests a U.S. political ideology gap for taking COVID-19 precautions, but we do not know the role of cognitive risk (assessed here as perceived risk) and affective risk (assessed here as worry) in explaining why conservative Americans participated in fewer recommended precautions (e.g., mask wearing) and whether governmental trust attenuates the effect. We predicted that conservatives (compared with liberals) would take fewer precautions because they thought they were less at risk and were less worried about COVID-19, but that this would be more pronounced for those with low governmental trust. In this study, U.S. adults (representative sample: N = 738; M-age = 46.8; 52% women; 78% white) who had not had COVID-19 took two online surveys 2 weeks apart during the first wave of the pandemic (April 2020). Participants reported ideology, perceived risk of getting or dying of COVID-19, worry about COVID-19, and trust in the CDC and state officials at baseline. At follow-up, participants reported on COVID-19 precautions: (1) prevention behavior participation (e.g., mask wearing) and (2) behavioral willingness for future behaviors (e.g., vaccination). Results showed that, politically conservative Americans took fewer precautions due to lower worry (but unexpectedly not due to lower perceived risk). As predicted, when trust was high, the ideology gap was muted for predicting precautions as well as for predicting perceived risk and worry. In sum, conservatives worried less about COVID-19 which predicted fewer precautions, but trust in governmental institutions reduced this ideological gap. Improving governmental trust could be one fruitful path to increasing COVID-19 precautions.

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