Study examines relationship between concern about COVID-19 and belief in science and faith

A new study has shown that people in the U.S. relied more on science than religion to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The Arizona State University study, which was published on June 30 in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, assessed how people perceived faith in God or scientific information as the pandemic progressed. 

“We expected attitudes about faith and science to change because of the pandemic," said Kathryn Johnson, associate research professor in the ASU Department of Psychology and first author on the paper. "People use faith- and science-based mindsets to understand the world, but we found that people relied mostly on science in making sense of the global pandemic that disrupted all of our lives.” 

The research team surveyed over 800 participants in March, April and June 2020. Participants completed a series of surveys that measured how worried they were about contracting the virus and how motivated they were to avoid disease generally. The researchers also assessed faith and science mindsets — how much participants generally thought science or faith in God were valuable sources of information, could explain reality or solve problems. 

People who had a stronger science mindset were more concerned about COVID-19 in the early months of the pandemic.  

“We found that science was an interpretative framework for COVID-19. The pandemic did not make people more interested in science, but science-minded people were much more worried about COVID-19 — even after taking political attitudes into account,” Johnson said. 

Faith mindsets were not directly related to concern about the pandemic. Although many people felt that their faith had increased, the researchers found that faith in God actually decreased across all religious groups in the early months of the pandemic. 

“Faith can bring people comfort, but people seemed to turn more toward science during the pandemic, maybe searching for practical solutions rather than comfort. But people need both comfort and practical solutions in such stressful times,” Johnson said.

The researchers have collected additional data and plan to continue to investigate how faith in God and reliance on science has influenced health practices and psychological well-being during the pandemic. 

In addition to Johnson, the research team consisted of graduate student Jordan Moon, Professor Morris Okun and Professor Adam Cohen from ASU, and Amanda Baraldi of the University of Oklahoma. The study was supported the Issachar Fund through a grant from the Templeton Religion Trust.

Kimberlee D’Ardenne
kmcclur4@asu.edu