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Lecture by Jan-Willem van Prooijen
Locatie: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Belief in conspiracy theories during a pandemic
Jan-Willem van Prooijen (VU Amsterdam) – 15:30 CET
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The Covid-19 pandemic has inspired many conspiracy theories, such as that the Sars-Cov-2 virus was developed by humans in the lab, that Covid-19 is caused by the radiation of 5G telecommunication networks, that governments have planned the pandemic to restrict people’s freedom, and so on. The current presentation will address two questions. First, are Covid-19 conspiracy theories harmful or harmless? And second, why does this pandemic offer such fertile soil for conspiracy theories? As to the first question, results of various longitudinal studies indicate that conspiracy beliefs are not only correlated with a decrease in constructive health beliefs and behaviors (e.g., social distancing), but also predict a progressive decrease in constructive health beliefs and behaviors over time. Also, people use conspiracy theories to justify their anti-vaccination sentiments. As to the second question, I propose that the distress that many citizens experience during societal crisis situations shapes basic cognitive operations, hostile social perceptions, and extreme ideological beliefs, which all feed into conspiracy thinking. Results indicate links between conspiracy thinking and illusory pattern perception, perceived intergroup conflict, and ideological extremism. I conclude that conspiracy beliefs are a natural human response to societal crisis situations such as a pandemic, and that such beliefs undermine public health.