Uncertainty Communication in a High-Trust Society: Source Type, Political Preference, and Trust

Øyvind Ihlen, Audun Fladmoe, Kari Steen-Johnsen


Studies of uncertainty communication have produced mixed results concerning the consequences for trust. In this article, we focus on uncertainty communication as it concerns trust in a message about vaccine effectiveness and safety, seeing source type and political preference as mediators. These factors have become increasingly important as public health issues are becoming politicized in several countries. To test these relationships, we conducted a survey experiment in Norway—a high-trust society. Our results show a consistent tendency that statements expressing certainty were trusted more, especially when the source of the statement was the government or public health authorities. Importantly, however, the differences between statements expressing certainty and uncertainty were small. Also, when asked about their trust in messages from the public health authorities, respondents’ political beliefs played a minor role. The relatively high acceptance of uncertainty communication may be interpreted in the light of generally high levels of trust in authorities, as well as low levels of polarization in the Norwegian context, in general, and in the context of the pandemic.


uncertainty, trust, COVID-19, public health institutions, politicization

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