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Background Readings

Here are some articles from different sources that we have found particularly useful in broadening our understanding of what is happening in response to the pandemic. 

Conspiracy Theories 


The first is a pre-pandemic background paper on the psychology of conspiracy theories from a team with a very strong track record of theory and research in this area.  The abstract states: “Belief in conspiracy theories appears to be driven by motives that can be characterized as epistemic (understanding one’s environment), existential (being safe and in control of one’s environment), and social (maintaining a positive image of the self and the social group)”. The pandemic provides a fruitful environment for epistemic and existential motivations. 


Douglas, K. M., Sutton, R. M., & Cichocka, A. (2017). The psychology of conspiracy theories. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 26(6), 538-542. 


The second paper emphasizes the importance of measurement issues in assessing the prevalence and/or strength of belief, this time in the context of the pandemic. 


Sutton, R. M., & Douglas, K. M. (2020). Agreeing to disagree: reports of the popularity of Covid-19 conspiracy theories are greatly exaggerated. Psychological Medicine, 1-3. 

Understanding Uncertainty and Threat 


Our understanding of distress in response to the pandemic (and other life-disrupting situations) is that the distress (often, but not exclusively, anxiety) is due to both threat or danger as found in CBT models of anxiety, and uncertainty which is not a main component of most CBT models.  The distinction is more familiar in other fields such as economics, although the language may be different.  What we would call threat, they may call risk.  This is a brief article from July 2020 in the field of marketing that nicely sums up some of the issues and the differential weighting between scenarios: “Extreme measures are justified to save lives, but very high standards are set for the evaluation and use of a potentially useful drug”. 


Stewart, D. W. (2020). Uncertainty and Risk Are Multidimensional: Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 0743915620930007. 


In a similar vein, the “misinfodemic” has been well documented. The following example from risk communication researchers argues that misinformation should be viewed as a risk in its own right or “meta-risk” and “interacts with and complicates publics’ perceptions of the original risk”.  The authors conceptualize fact-checking as a form of risk communication, but also identify the challenges of fact-checking in the pandemic, namely, Problems of trust; The limits of knowledge, and Fact-checking a state of uncertainty. 


Krause, N. M., Freiling, I., Beets, B., & Brossard, D. (2020). Fact-checking as risk communication: the multi-layered risk of misinformation in times of COVID-19. Journal of Risk Research, 1-8. 

Bodily maps of emotions

This paper illustrates the intimate connection between body and emotion and how discrete feeling states are associated with distinct patterns of experienced bodily sensations. The significance of embodied sensations for daily life inspires our research to capture bodily signals underlying and interacting with the felt-sense of unknownness which constitutes the lived experience of uncertainty. Furthermore, it informs our conceptualisation of a treatment design to encompass body-integrative elements in order to befriend and embrace uncertainty.

Lauri Nummenmaa, L., Glerean, E., Hari, R. and Hietanen, J.K. (2014) Bodily maps of emotions

PNAS, 111 (2), 646-651.

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