Introduction – May 25, 2020
A new study by the Department of Psychology at the University of Oxford is encouraging reading. A couple of points need to be borne in mind while reading it however.
First, it is written from the point of view of the powers that be. As a result it does not give any credence to the theories themselves. It works on the assumption that they are “false” without examining them. Concluding that conspiracy theories are simply the result of paranoia and mistrust.
Nonetheless, the study is encouraging insofar as it reveals that these ideas are spreading.
Only half the population will now readily dismiss “conspiracy theories”, the study finds while 15% will consistently support them.
The study also reveals that as many as a quarter of the population in England are now open to such ideas and that number is growing.
In other words there is a significant and growing minority in England who will no longer swallow official lies without question. While the study was conducted in England there is good reason to believe that its findings are not isolated to England alone. This is almost certainly part of a wider global trend
This obviously worries the authors of the study. As they conclude by writing that there is an “urgent” need to find ways to counter the growing influence of these ideas. Ed
A few selected quotes are below:
Coronavirus Conspiracy Beliefs, Mistrust, and Compliance with Government Guidelines in England
Submitted to Psychological Medicine – May 19, 2020
Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust.
Background: An invisible threat has visibly altered the world. Governments and key institutions have had to implement decisive responses to the danger posed by the coronavirus pandemic. Imposed change will increase the likelihood that alternative explanations take hold. In a proportion of the general population there may be strong scepticism, fear of being misled, and false conspiracy theories. Our objectives were to estimate the prevalence of conspiracy thinking about the pandemic and test associations with reduced adherence to government guidelines…
Results: Approximately 50% of this population showed little evidence of conspiracy thinking, 25% showed a degree of endorsement, 15% showed a consistent pattern of endorsement, and 10% had very high levels of endorsement….
Conclusions: In England there is appreciable endorsement of conspiracy beliefs about coronavirus. Such ideas do not appear confined to the fringes….
The coronavirus pandemic and associated countermeasures have created conditions in which conspiracy beliefs are likely to develop…
We hypothesise that: a significant minority of the population hold excessively sceptical views, including clear false conspiracy beliefs…
The results are illuminating but dispiriting: a substantial minority of the population endorses unequivocally false ideas about the pandemic. Only half the population showed little evidence of conspiracy thinking.…
A public health information crisis may be observable. Misinformation and misguided – often malign – views look to be highly prevalent. Fringe beliefs may now be mainstream. A previously defining element that the beliefs are typically only held by a minority may require revision….
There were indications that the coronavirus conspiracy beliefs are more likely to be held by those who perceive themselves as marginalised, but these relationships do not appear as strong as in previous studies (e.g. Freeman & Bentall., 2017). This weakening may reflect a cross-over of distrust of mainstream accounts into the mainstream itself.
In our view the urgent question now is how can the prevalence and impact of conspiracy beliefs and general mistrust be reduced both in the short and long term?