Cross-Sectional Psychological and Demographic Associations of Zika Knowledge and Conspiracy Beliefs Before and After Local Zika Transmission

Rachael Piltch-Loeb, Brian J. Zikmund-Fisher, Victoria A. Shaffer, Laura D. Scherer, Megan Knaus, Angie Fagerlin, David M. Abramson, Aaron M. Scherer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Perceptions of infectious diseases are important predictors of whether people engage in disease-specific preventive behaviors. Having accurate beliefs about a given infectious disease has been found to be a necessary condition for engaging in appropriate preventive behaviors during an infectious disease outbreak, while endorsing conspiracy beliefs can inhibit preventive behaviors. Despite their seemingly opposing natures, knowledge and conspiracy beliefs may share some of the same psychological motivations, including a relationship with perceived risk and self-efficacy (i.e., control). The 2015–2016 Zika epidemic provided an opportunity to explore this. The current research provides some exploratory tests of this topic derived from two studies with similar measures, but different primary outcomes: one study that included knowledge of Zika as a key outcome and one that included conspiracy beliefs about Zika as a key outcome. Both studies involved cross-sectional data collections that occurred during the same two periods of the Zika outbreak: one data collection prior to the first cases of local Zika transmission in the United States (March–May 2016) and one just after the first cases of local transmission (July–August). Using ordinal logistic and linear regression analyses of data from two time points in both studies, the authors show an increase in relationship strength between greater perceived risk and self-efficacy with both increased knowledge and increased conspiracy beliefs after local Zika transmission in the United States. Although these results highlight that similar psychological motivations may lead to Zika knowledge and conspiracy beliefs, there was a divergence in demographic association.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2683-2693
Number of pages11
JournalRisk Analysis
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019


  • Conspiracy belief
  • Zika
  • knowledge
  • perceived risk

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Physiology (medical)


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