Perceptions and tolerance of uncertainty: relationship to trust in COVID-19 health information and vaccine hesitancy

Document Type


Publication Date


Journal Title

Journal of behavioral medicine


The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the public to considerable scientific uncertainty, which may promote vaccine hesitancy among individuals with lower tolerance of uncertainty. In a national sample of US adults in May-June 2020, we examined how both perceptions of uncertainty about COVID-19 and trait-level differences in tolerance of uncertainty arising from various sources (risk, ambiguity, and complexity) are related to vaccine hesitancy-related outcomes, including trust in COVID-19 information, COVID-19 vaccine intentions, and beliefs that COVID-19 vaccines should undergo a longer testing period before being released to the public. Overall, perceptions of COVID-19 uncertainty were not associated with trust in information, vaccine intentions, or beliefs about vaccine testing. However, higher tolerance of risk was associated with lower intentions to get vaccinated, and lower tolerance of ambiguity was associated with lower intentions to get vaccinated and preferring a longer period of vaccine testing. Critically, perceptions of COVID-19 uncertainty and trait-level tolerance for uncertainty also interacted as predicted, such that greater perceived COVID-19 uncertainty was more negatively associated with trust in COVID-19 information among individuals with lower tolerance for risk and ambiguity. Thus, although perceptions of uncertainty regarding COVID-19 may not reduce trust and vaccine hesitancy for all individuals, trait-level tolerance of uncertainty arising from various sources may have both direct and moderating effects on these outcomes. These findings can inform public health communication or other interventions to increase COVID-19 vaccination uptake.