Coronavirus Conspiracy Theorists Struggle With Scientific Reasoning, Study Finds
A newly published study has found that people who believe conspiracy theories regarding the coronavirus are more likely to struggle with scientific reasoning.
Conducted about a week after the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in Slovakia, the study asked 783 participants to indicate how much they agreed with various coronavirus conspiracy beliefs, which were rife following the outbreak of the virus last year.
Theories in question included one which suggested COVID-19 was ‘a biological weapon created to eliminate the overcrowded human population’, and another which claimed the virus was ‘only a fabrication’, and that it is ‘an ordinary flu which pharmaceutical companies rebranded to increase the sales of drugs.’
Researchers also asked the participants to complete a test of scientific reasoning, which involved responding to six true or false statements, including: ‘The researchers want to find out how to increase natality. They ask for statistical information and see that there are more children born in cities that have more hospitals. This finding implies that building new hospitals will increase the birth rate of the population.’
To further aid the study, those involved also completed assessments regarding coronavirus knowledge, belief in unfounded health-related claims, general analytic thinking, anti-vaccination attitudes and preventive behaviour, according to PsyPost.
Study author Vladimira Cavojova, of the Centre for Social and Psychological Sciences at the Slovak Academy of Sciences, explained that the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic brought with it ‘too much uncertainty and confusion regarding the best measures to protect oneself against the coronavirus.’
Cavojova explained that scientists hypothesized that those who ‘understand the workings of science better would be better able to navigate the sea of conflicting information and resist pseudoscientific and unfounded beliefs.’
After studying the results, published in the Journal of Health Psychology, the researchers found that those who showed a strong belief in the coronavirus conspiracies were more likely to score low on the test for scientific reasoning. Those who believed in the theories also displayed a reduced willingness to receive a vaccine for the virus.
As well as being more likely to fall victim to the theories, those with low scores on the scientific reasoning test were also more likely to endorse unfounded general health-related beliefs and attitudes of anti-vaxxers.
The researchers noted that the findings are in line with previous research, which has found that ‘people who have one kind of epistemically suspect belief tend to have other kinds of such beliefs as well.’
Speaking to PsyPost, Cavojova explained that the most important takeaway from the study was that when crises such as pandemics occur, it may be ‘too late to foster scientific reasoning’ as people ‘rely on any prior beliefs and attitudes in interpreting new evidence, and those who are more prone to unfounded beliefs will be more vulnerable to any misinformation that occurs.’
The researcher continued:
Scientific reasoning is just one piece of a puzzle in the understanding of how people make sense of the world during the turbulent times. When people’s feelings get the best of them, they respond intuitively and emotionally, which makes the use of scientific reasoning even harder.
Therefore, it is necessary to look for the effective ways that would help people to postpone the quick intuitive responses (e.g. rapid spread of pseudoscientific disinformation) and to engage in more effortful processing that would allow them to make more informed judgements.
The study found no evidence that scientific reasoning was associated with behaviours that may prevent the spread of the virus, such as social distancing, though a later study revealed that lower scientific reasoning was also related to a reluctance to follow government guidelines regarding the pandemic, Cavojova explained.
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