Tell me what you are like and I will tell you what you believe in: Social representations of COVID-19 in the Americas, Europe and Asia
This study analyzes the range and content of Social Representations (SRs) about the COVID-19 pandemic in 21 geographical zones from 17 countries in the Americas, Europe and Asia (N = 4430). Based on Social Representations Theory, as well as the psychosocial consequences of pandemics and crises, we evaluate the perceptions of severity and risks, the agreement with different SRs, and participants’ Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) and Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWA). Different sets of beliefs are discussed as SRs, together with their prevalence and association with contextual variables. Results show that severity and risk perceptions were associated with different SRs of the pandemic. Specifically, those focused on Emerging Externalizing zoonotic and ecological factors (the virus is due to Chinese unhygienic habits and the overexploitation of the planet), Polemic Conspiracies (the virus is a weapon), views of Elite and Mass Villains (the elites deceive us and profit with the pandemic), and Personal Responsibility (the neglectful deserves contagion) during the pandemic. Furthermore, most of the SRs are anchored in SDO and, more strongly, in RWA orientations. Additional meta-analyses and multi-level regressions show that the effects are replicated in most geographical areas and that risk perception was a consistent explanatory variable, even after controlling for demographics and ‘real risk’ (i.e., actual numbers of contagion and death). Results suggest that, while coping with and making sense of the pandemic, authoritarian subjects agree with SR that feed a sense of social control and legitimize outgroup derogation, and support punishment of ingroup low- status deviants.