Covid-19 conspiracies, trust in authorities, and duty to comply with social distancing restrictions

Kristina Murphy, Molly Mccarthy, Elise Sargeant, Harley Williamson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


In 2020 governments worldwide implemented various laws and social distancing restrictions to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus. At the same time, conspiracy theories emerged purporting that authorities were using the COVID-19 pandemic to permanently control or harm citizens. These conspiracies undermined government responses to the pandemic and in some cases elicited civil disobedience. Using survey data from 779 Australians collected eight months into the pandemic, we examined the relationship between conspiracy beliefs, trust in the government, and duty to comply with authorities during the COVID-19 pandemic. We also examined whether trust in government moderated the association between conspiracy beliefs and duty to comply. We found that those prone to conspiracy theory beliefs and who distrusted government were less likely to comply with authorities during the pandemic. We also found that trust in the government moderated the negative relationship between conspiracy beliefs and duty to comply; high trust served as a protective factor against conspiracy beliefs. Importantly, we found that how government actions were experienced and perceived during the pandemic were important correlates of Australians’ level of trust in the government. Our findings point to the importance of governments maintaining high trust in their efficacy and approach during a crisis.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Criminology
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2022
Externally publishedYes

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