Beliefs About COVID-19 in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States: A Novel Test of Political Polarization and Motivated Reasoning

Gordon Pennycook, Jonathon McPhetres, Bence Bago et David Rand


What are the psychological consequences of the increasingly politicized nature of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States relative to similar Western countries? In a two-wave study completed early (March) and later (December) in the pandemic, we found that polarization was greater in the United States (N = 1,339) than in Canada (N = 644) and the United Kingdom. (N = 1,283). Political conservatism in the United States was strongly associated with engaging in weaker mitigation behaviors, lower COVID-19 risk perceptions, greater misperceptions, and stronger vaccination hesitancy. Although there was some evidence that cognitive sophistication was associated with increased polarization in the United States in December (but not March), cognitive sophistication was nonetheless consistently negatively correlated with misperceptions and vaccination hesitancy across time, countries, and party lines. Furthermore, COVID-19 skepticism in the United States was strongly correlated with distrust in liberal-leaning mainstream news outlets and trust in conservative-leaning news outlets, suggesting that polarization may be driven by differences in information environments.


COVID-19; motivated reasoning; political polarization; cognitive reflection; attitudes;

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Publié dans

Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, juin 2021