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The paradox of trust: perceived risk and public compliance during the COVID-19 pandemic in Singapore


  • Catherine Mei Ling Wong
  • Olivia Jensen


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Catherine Mei Ling Wong & Olivia Jensen, 2020. "The paradox of trust: perceived risk and public compliance during the COVID-19 pandemic in Singapore," Journal of Risk Research, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 23(7-8), pages 1021-1030, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:jriskr:v:23:y:2020:i:7-8:p:1021-1030
    DOI: 10.1080/13669877.2020.1756386

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    RePEc Biblio mentions

    As found on the RePEc Biblio, the curated bibliography for Economics:
    1. > Economics of Welfare > Health Economics > Economics of Pandemics > Specific pandemics > Covid-19 > Behavioral issues > Trust


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Tan, Micah & Straughan, Paulin Tay & Cheong, Grace, 2022. "Information trust and COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy amongst middle-aged and older adults in Singapore: A latent class analysis Approach," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 296(C).
    2. Chunhui Zheng & Jia Zhang & Lili Qian & Yuling Zhang, 2022. "Risk, Obligation, and Public Noncompliance with Mobility Directives in China during the COVID-19 Pandemic," IJERPH, MDPI, vol. 19(18), pages 1-20, September.
    3. Tomer Mevorach & Jonathan Cohen & Alan Apter, 2021. "Keep Calm and Stay Safe: The Relationship between Anxiety and Other Psychological Factors, Media Exposure and Compliance with COVID-19 Regulations," IJERPH, MDPI, vol. 18(6), pages 1-13, March.
    4. Walid Gani, 2021. "The causal relationship between corruption and irresponsible behavior in the time of COVID‐19: Evidence from Tunisia," African Development Review, African Development Bank, vol. 33(S1), pages 165-176, April.
    5. Tine Bizjak & Davor Kontić & Branko Kontić, 2022. "Practical Opportunities to Improve the Impact of Health Risk Assessment on Environmental and Public Health Decisions," IJERPH, MDPI, vol. 19(7), pages 1-18, April.
    6. Moran Bodas & Bruria Adini & Eli Jaffe & Arielle Kaim & Kobi Peleg, 2022. "Lockdown Efficacy in Controlling the Spread of COVID-19 May Be Waning Due to Decline in Public Compliance, Especially among Unvaccinated Individuals: A Cross-Sectional Study in Israel," IJERPH, MDPI, vol. 19(9), pages 1-11, April.
    7. Jingjing Wang & Nanyue Rao & Buxin Han, 2021. "Pathways Improving Compliance with Preventive Behaviors during the Remission Period of the COVID-19 Pandemic," IJERPH, MDPI, vol. 18(7), pages 1-12, March.
    8. Le Thanh Tam & Huong Xuan Ho & Dong Phong Nguyen & Arun Elias & Angelina Nhat Hanh Le, 2021. "Receptivity of Governmental Communication and Its Effectiveness During COVID-19 Pandemic Emergency in Vietnam: A Qualitative Study," Global Journal of Flexible Systems Management, Springer;Global Institute of Flexible Systems Management, vol. 22(1), pages 45-64, June.
    9. Gianna Gayle Amul & Michael Ang & Diya Kraybill & Suan Ee Ong & Joanne Yoong, 2022. "Responses to COVID‐19 in Southeast Asia: Diverse Paths and Ongoing Challenges," Asian Economic Policy Review, Japan Center for Economic Research, vol. 17(1), pages 90-110, January.
    10. Daicia Price & Tore Bonsaksen & Mary Ruffolo & Janni Leung & Vivian Chiu & Hilde Thygesen & Mariyana Schoultz & Amy Ostertun Geirdal, 2021. "Perceived Trust in Public Authorities Nine Months after the COVID-19 Outbreak: A Cross-National Study," Social Sciences, MDPI, vol. 10(9), pages 1-14, September.
    11. Ben Davies & Fanny Lalot & Linus Peitz & Maria S. Heering & Hilal Ozkececi & Jacinta Babaian & Kaya Davies Hayon & Jo Broadwood & Dominic Abrams, 2021. "Changes in political trust in Britain during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020: integrated public opinion evidence and implications," Palgrave Communications, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 8(1), pages 1-9, December.

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