Social Representations of Covid-19 in the Framework of Risk Psychology

  • Roberto Fasanelli University of Naples "Federico II"
  • Alfonso Piscitelli University of Naples "Federico II" - Department of Agricultural Sciences
  • Ida Galli University of Naples "Federico II" - Department of Social Sciences
Keywords: Social Representations, Covid-19, Risk Psychology, Mixed methods


Social representations theory offers a useful framework to analyse the construction of lay explanations of social risks. The current study used this theoretical framework to investigate lay explanations of the COVID-19 outbreak. Risk psychology generally focuses on individual perceptions and cognitive errors or the notion of the fallibility of human information processing. According to Moscovici, society is not a source of information, but of meanings. People, on topics of interest, construct questions and look for answers, rather than merely perceiving and processing obtained information. Social psychologists, therefore, cannot be interested in risk responses as erroneous or correct, nor as false, deficient, or biased. Instead, they must be concerned with how social awareness of risk is built, in other words, how and why people need to co-construct social representations of such a risk. To identify the structure and content of COVID-19 SRs, we used a non-probabilistic sample composed by social sciences and humanities and life sciences students (N = 124). To access the structure of COVID-19 SRs, we employed the method of hierarchical evocation. The free association task was completed by participants’ justification of their association choices to avoid the lexical ambiguity that could come from this kind of data. To access the content of COVID-19 SRs, we utilized both open and closed questions made up starting from the following dimensions: informative sources and participants’ networks of interaction; anchoring and objectivation processes; expectations and emotions related to the object.