Review of COVID-19 conspiracy theories
COVID-19 conspiracy theories emerged almost immediately after the beginning of the pandemic, and the number of believers does not appear to decline. Believing in these theories can negatively affect adherence to safety guidelines and vaccination intentions, potentially endangering the lives of many. Thus, one part in successfully fighting the pandemic is to understand the antecedents and consequences of COVID-19 conspiracy beliefs, which are presented in a rapid review summarizing research from more than 28 countries.
We evaluate the contribution of individual difference variables (demographic variables, personality traits, coping with threat and uncertainty), beliefs, biases, and attitudes (epistemically suspect beliefs, thinking styles and cognitive biases, attitudes towards science), and social factors (group identities, trust in authorities, social media) to COVID-19 conspiracy theories. We discuss the consequences of COVID-19 conspiracy beliefs in regard to safeguarding behaviours (hygiene, distancing, and mask-wearing), self-centred (hoarding) and misguided behaviours (pseudoscientific practices), vaccination intentions, mental health and negative social consequences (e.g., discrimination and violence).
Differences between countries as well as various conspiracy theories are considered. Summarising, we suggest that belief in COVID-19 conspiracy theories is boosted by low levels of trust in a context of threat and low levels of comprehensive, accessible information in a context of uncertainty and unknowns. We conclude that research is urgently needed to address potential interventions to (re-)establish trust and provide accessible information about COVID-19.
Preprint available here.
See here for a blog post with the synopsis of the cognitive aspects of COVID-19 conspiracy beliefs.
The Role of Trust and Information
The COVID-19 pandemic is a public health crisis, and the spread of the virus needs to be curbed. We hypothesized that trust in authorities is required for informed adherence to guidelines, meaning populism and conspiracy thinking are risk factors in the effort to curb the pandemic. Through a large survey in twelve countries worldwide (N = 7,755), we show that adherence to protective guidelines is driven by concern about COVID-19, perceived risk, female gender, feeling informed, and trust in scientists. Endorsement of conspiracy belief that the virus is artificially created was predicted by distrust in scientists, trust in populist governments, and distrust in non-populist governments. Conspiracy belief was associated with trust in Facebook and distrust in institutional websites (WHO, government and healthcare). This research shows that trust in authorities and access to trustworthy information is paramount to encourage adherence to safety guidelines and avoid conspiracy thinking during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Preprint available here.