New study to investigate COVID-19 and misinformation

Researchers at the University of Bristol and King’s College London are leading a major new study to investigate COVID-19 perceptions and misperceptions, lockdown compliance and vaccine hesitancy.

The research team is gathering longitudinal survey data on trust and compliance with public health requirements over the course of the pandemic, enhancing and extending the ‘Life Under Lockdown’ study fielded between April and June this year.

The study will examine whether trust and perceptions are stable over time – and whether the fundamental drivers of misperceptions and conspiracism can be identified. The research project will also assess whether endorsement of Covid-19 and vaccine conspiracies undermine trust and compliance. It will be delivered through analysis of new, high-quality survey data studying respondents over time.

The project will be led by Dr Siobhan McAndrew from the University of Bristol, alongside King’s College researchers, Dr Daniel Allington, Senior Lecturer in Social and Cultural Artificial and Bobby Duffy, Professor of Public Policy and Director of the Policy. The project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of the UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to COVID-19.

Dr Siobhan McAndrew, Senior Lecturer in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies and Principal Investigator at Bristol, said: “‘With the rise of social media, it is easier than ever before to discover new knowledge and to exchange views and beliefs with others. We are therefore investigating how beliefs matter for health behaviours – and whether and how misperceptions might be a risk to public health.

“By tracking misperceptions over time, our study will identify their drivers, and whether they primarily relate to economic insecurity, to media consumption patterns, to advice received from friends and family, and so on. Our findings will inform the world-class communication and vaccine information campaigns that we urgently need – campaigns which are resilient to misperceptions and misinformation.”

The researchers added: “Effective mitigation of the COVID-19 health crisis partly depends on trust that the measures which are being imposed are worthwhile, and that the people who have decided them are trustworthy.

“Such basic trust has come under pressure over time, partly as society has become more questioning, and more recently through the spread of conspiracism online. There is some evidence of online actors exploiting the current emergency to generate distrust and undermine vaccine confidence. Widespread sense of insecurity – whether health-related, or due to economic hardship – may also sharpen distrust of authority.”

The 18-month project began on 2 November 2020.