Description: Regardless of what you thought of the events surrounding the so-called Freedom Convoy in Canada’s capital of Ottawa over the past 3 weeks it was very clear that there are quite a few people who do not trust that the government is giving them the right information and advice or doing the right thing with regards to vaccine mandates and social distancing regulations in what we hope are the ending days of the COVID pandemic. Putting aside the issues associated with people getting their “news” from focused, interested sites what might be the issue with some people’s lack of trust of the information being provided by health specialists, given that the information is, understandably, changing as we gather more extensive and better data about COVID and the impacts of social distancing, masks and vaccination. I will give you a hint; there might be some very useful stuff we can learn about this by looking at research with 4-yea-olds. Think about this (and no this is NOT intended as a shot at Freedom Convoy participants) and then read the article linked below for a look at what child development research has to tell us about epistemic trust (terms defined in the article).
Source: Trust comes when you admit what you don’t know – lessons from child development research, Tanya Kushnir, David Sobel, and Mark Sabbagh, The Conversation.
Date: Feb 15, 2022
So, the research on epistemic certainty among preschoolers seems to suggest that they pick up information more quickly and trust what they are being told more deeply when the ‘tellers’ acknowledge when they are uncertain about what it is they are reporting upon. How does that fit in with your recollections of the ways that COVID-related information was shared with us by health authorities over the past 2 years? Epistemology or, more specifically, epistemic assumptions (part of the focus of my doctoral dissertation many decades ago) play a powerful role in how people approach information and in the attitudes and opinions they hold of those who provide them with information (and with scientific results especially). If we believe that there are right and wrong answers to every possible question, we might care to ask then we might think differently about the people offering research-based information than if we believe that some situations or circumstances are complex and certain information might be a ways off or not even in the card at all. Maybe we need to try and approach our informational demands and those who try and address those demands a bit more like 4-year-olds whole learning about and understanding of the world and their trust in those who [provide them with information about it all benefits when the tellers admit uncertainty.
Questions for Discussion:
- What are some things that you hope to see in and hear from public health scientists as they talk with you (us) about COVID-related stuff?
- What sorts of thoughts come to mind for you when a scientist expresses uncertainty about what research findings suggest about how we should behave or what we should do?
- What sorts of things might we do to better engage with individuals or groups who are rather firm in their beliefs about some aspect or situation in the world and distrustful of anyone who tries to use science to help them reconsider their positions?
References (Read Further):
Pulford, B. D., Colman, A. M., Buabang, E. K., & Krockow, E. M. (2018). The persuasive power of knowledge: Testing the confidence heuristic. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 147(10), 1431. Link
Fleerackers, A., Riedlinger, M., Moorhead, L., Ahmed, R., & Alperin, J. P. (2021). Communicating scientific uncertainty in an age of COVID-19: an investigation into the use of preprints by digital media outlets. Health Communication, 1-13. Link
Pew Research Center (2022) Increasing Public Criticism, Confusion Over COVID-19 Response in U.S. Link
Mangardich, H., & Sabbagh, M. A. (2018). Children remember words from ignorant speakers but do not attach meaning: evidence from event‐related potentials. Developmental science, 21(2), e12544. Link
McLoughlin, N., Finiasz, Z., Sobel, D. M., & Corriveau, K. H. (2021). Children’s developing capacity to calibrate the verbal testimony of others with observed evidence when inferring causal relations. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 210, 105183. Link
Kushnir, T., & Koenig, M. A. (2017). What I don’t know won’t hurt you: The relation between professed ignorance and later knowledge claims. Developmental psychology, 53(5), 826. Link
Kelp, N. C., Witt, J. K., & Sivakumar, G. (2021). To Vaccinate or Not? The Role Played by Uncertainty Communication on Public Understanding and Behavior Regarding COVID-19. Science Communication, 10755470211063628. Link