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International team reports on impact of Covid-19 on trust and compliance


An international team including Brunel University London academics has uncovered how Covid-19 has impacted on trust in public institutions and the new norms of behaviour post-pandemic.

The team presented its current findings on public trust during the Covid-19 pandemic at the Houses of Parliament on 2 March.

The project is analysing attitudes in the UK and Japan, and this latest parliamentary event was sponsored by David Simmonds MP and Lord St John.

The lead researcher Dr Steve Pickering, from the University of Amsterdam and formerly of Brunel, said: “As new revelations around the UK Government’s approach to the pandemic in the news remind us, trust in politicians is vitally important when it comes to Covid-19. People need to know that they can trust politicians, institutions, and healthcare providers such as the NHS.”

Prof Dorothy Yen, professor in marketing at Brunel Business School, said: “Our research project is currently collecting monthly survey data in the UK and Japan, measuring people’s trust towards various social and political institutions – such as national medical systems, courts, police, government and parliamentarians – and people’s Covid-19 prevention and protection behaviour.

“Over the most recent seven months, our data revealed significant differences in people’s behaviour. While people in Japan are still washing hands, wearing masks, practising social distancing and avoiding crowded spaces, people in the UK are washing their hands for more than 20 seconds, but dropping the other behaviours.

“Does this mean that in the UK Covid-19 is already yesterday’s news? What causes such significant behaviour difference? Could we put it down to trust, threats, cultural differences, or anything else?”

The project was co-funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Japan Society for Promotion of Science. With monthly data collected in the UK and Japan over eight waves, there are three key takeaways explaining how trust affects people’s Covid-19 policy compliance:

  • The declining perception of threat caused by Covid-19 is observed in both countries. In both Japan and England, people have adapted to a post-pandemic ‘new normal’. But this new normal is different in the two countries. While mask wearing, social distancing and eating takeaways are still the norm in Japan, mask wearing or social distancing are not practised in the UK anymore. Instead, the new UK norm is based more on working from home and virtual meetings.
  • In the UK, people’s Covid-19 protection behaviour is triggered by their fear of Covid-19 as a life-threatening disease. Once their perception of Covid-19 as a threat has reduced, people are less willing to engage in these practices. This is not the case in Japan.
  • In both countries, national medical systems (i.e. the NHS in the UK) and courts receive the highest trust – Covid-19 has not eroded trust in those institutions. In comparison, governments in both countries receive the lowest trust.

The project was led by Dr Steve Pickering (University of Amsterdam). The UK project team consists of Professor Dorothy Yen (Brunel University London), Professor Thomas Scotto (University of Glasgow), Professor Han Dorussen (University of Essex), Professor Jason Reifler (University of Exeter) and Dr Bryan McIntosh (Brunel University London).

The Japan team is led by Professor Yosuke Sunahara, with co-investigators Professor Naofumi Fujimura (Kobe University), Professor Naoko Matsumura (Kobe University), Professor Atsushi Tago (Waseda University), Professor Masahiro Zenkyo (Kwansei Gakuin University) and Professor Shun Ikeda (Tsuda University).

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