Scientists from the Athena Institute at VU Amsterdam interviewed more than 80 citizens from eight European countries to investigate how they are coping with the complexities of the coronavirus pandemic. It turns out that many of the participants are experiencing tremendous stress as a result of the pandemic. To cope with this, many citizens are putting their emotional needs before rational considerations.

04/22/2021 | 2:38 PM

During the coronavirus crisis, citizens not only have to deal with the restrictions on everyday life imposed by their governments – they also have to navigate a wide range of information and opinions on the pandemic and the containment measures. They are inundated with information about the spread of the virus, which is not always consistent. How can you tell what information is reliable? And where do you draw the line between responsible and irresponsible behaviour?

A new study conducted by VU Amsterdam’s Athena Institute shows that citizens’ opinions are heavily influenced by their personal circumstances and experiences, as well as by their social circles. Participants who either work in healthcare themselves or who have family and friends who work in healthcare are more likely to take the virus and the containment measures seriously. The results also reveal that in order to find peace of mind, citizens may choose to not actively search for information on the pandemic, with some avoiding news about the developments altogether.

When people are forced to deal with complex and ambiguous scientific issues, they are faced with an information gap. To fill that gap, a process known as sensemaking takes place, by either using or rejecting certain information and knowledge. The scientists behind the study, which was conducted as part of the EU project RETHINK, hope that their research will make information providers take into account the various sensemaking processes and adapt their actions accordingly. This would allow them to reach more citizens and to get their message across more effectively.

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