Association Between Public Knowledge About COVID-19, Trust in Information Sources, and Adherence to Social Distancing: Cross-Sectional Survey (Preprint)

Journal Article


The success of behavioral interventions and policies designed to reduce the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic depends on how well individuals are informed about both the consequences of infection and the steps that should be taken to reduce the impact of the disease.


The aim of this study was to investigate associations between public knowledge about COVID-19, adherence to social distancing, and public trust in government information sources (eg, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), private sources (eg, FOX and CNN), and social networks (eg, Facebook and Twitter) to inform future policies related to critical information distribution.


We conducted a cross-sectional survey (N=1243) between April 10 and 14, 2020. Data collection was stratified by US region and other demographics to ensure representativeness of the sample.


Government information sources were the most trusted among the public. However, we observed trends in the data that suggested variations in trust by age and gender. White and older populations generally expressed higher trust in government sources, while non-White and younger populations expressed higher trust in private sources (eg, CNN) and social networks (eg, Twitter). Trust in government sources was positively associated with accurate knowledge about COVID-19 and adherence to social distancing. However, trust in private sources (eg, FOX and CNN) was negatively associated with knowledge about COVID-19. Similarly, trust in social networks (eg, Facebook and Twitter) was negatively associated with both knowledge and adherence to social distancing.


During pandemics such as the COVID-19 outbreak, policy makers should carefully consider the quality of information disseminated through private sources and social networks. Furthermore, when disseminating urgent health information, a variety of information sources should be used to ensure that diverse populations have timely access to critical knowledge.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Fridman, I; Lucas, N; Henke, D; Zigler, CK

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.2196/preprints.22060