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Wong and Jensen (2020). The paradox of trust: perceived risk and public compliance during the COVID-19 pandemic in Singapore

Bibliographic details:

Wong, C. M. L., & Jensen, O. (2020). The paradox of trust: perceived risk and public compliance during the COVID-19 pandemic in Singapore. Journal of Risk Research, 1-10.



Public trust in the authorities has been recognised in risk research as a crucial component of effective and efficient risk management. But in a pandemic, where the primary responsibility of risk management is not centralised within institutional actors but defused across society, trust can become a double-edged sword. Under these conditions, public trust based on a perception of government competence, care and openness may in fact lead people to underestimate risks and thus reduce their belief in the need to take individual action to control the risks. In this paper, we examine the interaction between trust in government, risk perceptions and public compliance in Singapore in the period between January and April 2020. Using social media tracking and online focus group discussions, we present a preliminary assessment of public responses to government risk communication and risk management measures. We highlight the unique deployment of risk communication in Singapore based on the narrative of ‘defensive pessimism’ to heighten rather than lower levels perceived risk. But the persistence of low public risk perceptions and concomitant low levels of compliance with government risk management measures bring to light the paradox of trust. This calls for further reflection on another dimension of trust which focuses on the role of the public; and further investigation into other social and cultural factors that may have stronger influence over individual belief in the need to take personal actions to control the risks.