Identity change, uncertainty and mistrust in relation to fear and risk of COVID-19

Breakwell, G. ORCID: 0000-0002-2002-5681 and Jaspal, R. ORCID: 0000-0002-8463-9519, 2020. Identity change, uncertainty and mistrust in relation to fear and risk of COVID-19. Journal of Risk Research. ISSN 1366-9877

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The COVID-19 pandemic produced threats not only to physical and psychological health but also to the very fabric of family, work and social life. Individuals differ markedly in their ability to cope with such threats. Drawing on Identity Process Theory, our study examines identity processes that shape emotional and attitudinal responses to COVID-19. Survey data were collected from 251 adults in the UK during July 2020. Identity resilience, trust in science and scientists, fear of COVID-19 and perceived own risk of infection were measured. Respondents then watched a video clip designed to focus their thinking further upon the disease. Immediately after, levels of feeling afraid, uncertainty about self-protection, mistrust of anyone offering COVID-19 advice, and perceptions of identity change were indexed. A structural equation model of the relationship between these variables was tested and proved a good fit for the data. Identity resilience is negatively related to fear of COVID-19, which in turn is positively related to perceived own risk of COVID-19. Higher identity resilience is associated with greater uncertainty and feeling more afraid. Greater identity change is associated with higher mistrust, uncertainty and feeling more afraid. Trust in science and scientists correlates positively with perceived own risk of COVID-19 and negatively with mistrust of those offering advice on preventive behaviour. This study shows the usefulness of the identity resilience concept in modelling responses to health hazards. It also illustrates that focussing, even for a short time, on the characteristics of such a hazard can elicit perceived identity changes. Arousing fear is unlikely to initiate self-protection in those who are already fearful or who have less identity resilience. Fostering greater general trust in science and scientists, though difficult, will be valuable, particularly in encouraging public acceptance of mass vaccination against the virus when misinformation and conspiracy theories about it abound.

Item Type: Journal article
Publication Title: Journal of Risk Research
Creators: Breakwell, G. and Jaspal, R.
Publisher: Routledge
Date: 26 December 2020
ISSN: 1366-9877
Divisions: Schools > School of Social Sciences
Record created by: Jonathan Gallacher
Date Added: 15 Dec 2020 13:12
Last Modified: 26 Jun 2022 03:00

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