Social and Cognitive Psychology Theories in Understanding COVID-19 as the Pandemic of Blame

Ayoub Bouguettaya, Clare E. C. Walsh, Victoria Team

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When faced with adverse circumstances, there may be a tendency for individuals, agencies, and governments to search for a target to assign blame. Our focus will be on the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, where racial groups, political parties, countries, and minorities have been blamed for spreading, producing or creating the virus. Blame—here defined as attributing causality, responsibility, intent, or foresight to someone/something for a fault or wrong—has already begun to damage modern society and medical practice in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak. Evidence from past and current pandemics suggest that this tendency to seek blame affects international relations, promotes unwarranted devaluation of health professionals, and prompts a spike of racism and discrimination. By drawing on social and cognitive psychology theories, we provide a framework that helps to understand (1) the effect of blame in pandemics, (2) when people blame, whom they blame, and (3) how blame detrimentally affects the COVID-19 response. Ultimately, we provide a path to inform health messaging to reduce blaming tendencies, based on social psychological principles for health communication.
Original languageEnglish
Article number672395
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jan 2022


  • COVID-19
  • Path Model of Blame
  • blame
  • pandemics and epidemics
  • social cognition
  • social identity
  • social psychology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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