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Valerie van Mulukom, Coventry University, UK

Valerie van Mulukom
Valerie van Mulukom

Threat and uncertainty in the time of COVID-19: Low levels of trust and information reduce guideline compliance and increase conspiracy beliefs

Valerie van Mulukom is a cognitive scientist and psychologist at Coventry University, United Kingdom. Valerie completed her Ph.D. in the cognitive neuroscience of imagination at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, after which she held postdoctoral positions at Aarhus University and the University of Oxford, where she did research on the cognitive science of religion and memory. Currently, she combines her backgrounds to do research on the cognitive science and evolution of imagination, memory, and belief at Coventry University.

Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic is experienced by many as an ‘unknown threat’: there is a constant threat of catching the disease, as well as other detrimental changes to one’s life (e.g., losing one’s job). At the same time, there are many unknowns surrounding the threat (e.g., a lack of a comprehensive understanding of the disease, lack of knowledge about the economic future). Nonetheless, most people adhere to guidelines and do not endorse conspiracy beliefs. So how come some people do go against the grain? I suggest, on the basis of a systematic review as well as a large-scale, longitudinal international survey, that low levels of trust and information in the current pandemic – which presents a context of threat and uncertainty – can lead to reduced guideline compliance and increased conspiracy beliefs. Specifically, I will argue that low trust in the context of threat, and low information in the context of uncertainty can lead to misguided, self-centered behaviors and beliefs.