Self-uncertainty and conservatism during the COVID-19 pandemic predict perceived threat and engagement in risky social behaviors

Lily Syfers, Alexandria Jaurique, Benjamin Anjierwerden, Sara E. Burke, Justin D. Hackett, David E. Rast, Amber M. Gaffney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Two studies (N = 676) highlight the nuanced relationship between conservatism and adherence to COVID-19 policy and recommendations intended to slow the spread of the pandemic in the United States. Study 1 provided evidence that conservative Americans who felt uncertain about themselves and the future experienced elevated levels of symbolic threat (attacks to sociopolitical identity; e.g., the pandemic threatening American democracy) and realistic threat (concrete attacks to material resources or well-being; e.g., the pandemic threatening physical health) in comparison to their more certain counterparts. In Study 2, the association between this form of uncertainty and frequency of risky social behaviors (behaviors that increase the risk of virus transmission) was partially mediated by threat perception for Americans both low and high in conservatism. We discuss findings as an integration of the motivated social cognition framework and uncertainty-identity theory. While self-uncertainty was more associated with greater overall COVID-19 threat perception for Americans high (vs. low) in conservatism, threat perception and frequency of risky social behaviors were associated with self-uncertainty in a manner that is consistent with prevailing liberal and conservative norms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalGroup Processes and Intergroup Relations
StateAccepted/In press - 2023


  • COVID-19
  • realistic threat
  • self-uncertainty
  • symbolic threat

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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