Fevered Reasoning: How Heightened Distress and Lowered Resources Relate to COVID-19 Beliefs


  • Kent D. Harber Orcid
  • Valeria M. Vila Orcid


COVID-19 spawned many bogus beliefs (e.g., that it could be treated by ingesting household cleaners) and induced resistance to established facts (e.g., that it could be managed by vaccines). We tested whether transitory distress and insufficient psychosocial resources explain these maladaptive perspectives. According to the Resources and Perception Model (RPM; Harber et al., 2011, https://doi.org/10.1037/a0023995), distress distorts perception and judgment, but psychosocial resources (e.g., social support, self-esteem, purpose) mitigate such distortions by buffering distress. Two cross-sectional studies of COVID-19 beliefs fit within the RPM framework. General life distress was related to endorsing bogus beliefs and denying facts. COVID-specific distress was also related to bogus beliefs but not to denial of facts. Resources, in contrast, were associated with fewer bogus beliefs and with greater acceptance of facts. As per RPM, distress mediated the relation between resources and bogus beliefs. Additionally, rejection of CDC recommendations and adoption of survivalist strategies were positively associated with distress and negatively associated with resources. All results were retained even after controlling for mood and individual differences including political ideology and news sources.