Narrow-minded individuals were less likely to adhere to COVID-19 prevention behaviors like physical distancing, according to a new study examining data from 17 countries. The study, published in frontiers in psychologyprovides evidence that analytical thinking styles were more important than political ideologies in predicting behaviors in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of SARS‐CoV‐2 a global pandemic. Governments around the world have urged people to follow preventive health measures like washing hands frequently and keeping a minimum distance of two meters from others. The authors of the new study wanted to investigate why some people refused to comply with these measures.
“One area of our research interest is the role of ideological factors and analytical thinking in various aspects of our daily lives,” said Marina Maglić of the Institute of Social Sciences Ivo Pilar, the study’s corresponding author. “The COVID-19 pandemic is a global crisis affecting every major aspect of human life, and there are a multitude of factors at play in the argument. As such, it has the potential to inform some of the fundamental questions in the social sciences.”
“In the presented research, we focused on the role of analytical thinking and political ideology, factors that have been shown to influence reasoning regarding many controversial issues such as climate change, embryonic stem cell research, theory of evolution, etc. Therefore, we wanted to do this to examine how this translates to the issue of preventive behavior and political support in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
For their study, the researchers analyzed data from 12,490 participants from 17 countries: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Greece, Iraq, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Nigeria, New Zealand, Pakistan, Poland, Singapore, Slovakia and the USA. The data were collected in April and May 2020.
Participants reported on their political affiliations, adherence to COVID-19 prevention behaviors, and belief in conspiracy theories about COVID-19. They also completed a self-assessment of open-mindedness and completed the cognitive reflection test, which includes questions that tend to generate quick and intuitive — but incorrect — answers.
The researchers found that openness was a significantly stronger predictor of compliance with COVID-19 prevention behaviors than political orientation. Those who agreed with statements such as “If I don’t know much about a topic, I don’t mind being taught about it, even if I know about other topics” were more likely to avoid physical contact with others and to maintain personal hygiene, and supporting restrictive measures to contain COVID-19. In contrast, those who agreed with statements such as “I think it’s a waste of time to pay attention to people who disagree,” were less likely to adhere to COVID-19 prevention behaviors.
“During the early stages of the global crisis, individuals who tend to recognize the limits of their own knowledge and are open to new information and evidence were more willing to adhere to prevention measures and COVID-19 policies, regardless of their political leanings to support,” Maglić told PsyPost. “In addition, there is some evidence that an open-minded attitude can also help in dealing with various ‘contaminated’ and distorted information suggested by other research, and in our case, conspiracy theories in particular.”
“Namely, less receptive individuals practiced less physical distancing and were less supportive of restrictive COVID-19 policies, in part due to their support of COVID-19 conspiracy theories. Along with other research, these findings provide evidence that open-minded thinkers make more accurate judgments about risk and make more evidence-based decisions under uncertainty across a wide range of issues, including health-related ones.”
But narrow-mindedness/open-mindedness is just one factor among many influencing pandemic-related behaviors, the researchers found. For example, other research has found that increased entitlement is also associated with decreased adherence to COVID-19 prevention behaviors.
“Arguing and judging in the highly uncertain context of a global pandemic and infodemic is a complex research topic,” Maglić explained. “In our research, we used the cognitive science lens to examine psychological determinants of COVID-19 prevention behavior and political support, focusing specifically on the role of reasoning and political ideology. But of course many other relevant factors also play a role, such as B. different critical thinking skills and dispositions, personality traits (e.g. related and contextual factors (pandemic stage) to name a few.”
“A growing body of evidence from behavioral and social science should hopefully lead to a comprehensive understanding of psychological and behavioral responses to the pandemic, and thus provide tools for developing prevention and mitigation strategies tailored to a specific context in which.” they are to be implemented.”
“In our subsequent (yet unpublished) studies during different stages of the pandemic, we consistently find that open-minded thinking plays a relevant role in reasoning about the pandemic,” Maglić added. “We look forward to accumulating research that should inform health professionals and policymakers in developing effective public health strategies and communication models.”
The study “Analytic Thinking and Political Orientation in the Corona Crisis” was authored by Marina Maglić, Tomislav Pavlović and Renata Franc.