In several comprehensive studies, a research team from Bamberg, Chicago, Erfurt/Hamburg and Vienna investigated how perceptions and behaviours during the pandemic could shape future attitudes and how memories of feelings during the pandemic may be distorted by perceptions of the current situation. The study participants were interviewed in the first year of the pandemic, 2020, and then again around the turn of the year 2022/23. "In the second interview, they were also asked to recall their perceptions and behaviours during the first year of the pandemic. This made it possible to compare their memories with the answers they actually gave," explains one of the first authors, Philipp Sprengholz from the University of Bamberg.
By means of several studies with more than 10,000 respondents from a total of 10 countries, the researchers were able to determine the extent to which memories of one's own statements from the past were dependent on current perceptions and behaviour. The researchers were particularly interested in how different attitudes influence the distortion of memories. To do this, they looked at whether the respondents had been vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2 or not. The surprising result: depending on how much the vaccinated or unvaccinated identify with their vaccination status, the memories are distorted in different directions.
For example, vaccinated people overestimated their perceived risk of infection at the time and their trust in science, while unvaccinated people tended to underestimate both in retrospect. Since the memories partly improved when the respondents received money for particularly accurate memories, the scientists conclude that the memory distortions are at least partly motivated and cannot be explained by mere forgetting.
Desire to dismantle the political system
Furthermore, the study results showed that when there was a greater underestimation of risk perceptions, protective behaviour and trust in government and science at the time, political measures were retrospectively perceived as less appropriate. More negative evaluations of policy actions during the pandemic are also associated with a stronger desire to punish politicians and scientists for their actions during the pandemic and to dismantle the entire political order, according to the study. Unsurprisingly, these respondents also indicated that they do not intend to follow regulations in future pandemics. Overall, these intentions varied across countries (see figure).