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Mapping public health responses with attitude networks: the emergence of opinion‐based groups in the UK’s early COVID‐19 response phase

Authors
  • Maher, Paul J.1
  • MacCarron, Pádraig1, 1
  • Quayle, Michael1, 2
  • 1 University of Limerick, Ireland , (Ireland)
  • 2 University of KwaZulu‐Natal, South Africa , (South Africa)
Type
Published Article
Journal
The British Journal of Social Psychology
Publisher
John Wiley and Sons Inc.
Publication Date
Jul 04, 2020
Volume
59
Issue
3
Pages
641–652
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1111/bjso.12396
PMID: 32621294
PMCID: PMC7361608
Source
PubMed Central
Keywords
License
Unknown
External links

Abstract

Partisan patterns of compliance with public health measures are a feature of early COVID‐19 responses. In many cases, these differences in behaviour relate to pre‐existing group identities. However, in times of rapid societal change, novel opinion‐based groups can emerge and provide a new basis for partisan identification and divergent collective behaviour. Here, we use network methods to map the emergence of opposing opinion‐based groups and assess their implications for public health behaviour. In a longitudinal study, we tracked public health attitudes and self‐reported behaviour in a sample of UK participants over four time points. Network visualisation reveal a rift in attitudinal alignment over time and the genesis of two distinct groups characterised by trust, or distrust, in science (Study 1a; N  = 253). These groups also diverge in public health behaviour. In a brief follow‐up study ( N  = 206), we find that this opinion polarization partially reflects underlying societal divides. We discuss implications for opinion‐based group research and public health campaigns.

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