MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Conspiracy beliefs are associated with detrimental health attitudes during the coronavirus pandemic. Prior research on these issues was mostly cross-sectional, however, and restricted to attitudes or behavioral intentions. This investigation was designed to examine to what extent conspiracy beliefs predict health behavior and well-being over a longer period of time.

In this multi-wave study on a large (N = 5745) Dutch research panel (weighted to provide nationally representative population estimates), the researchers examined if conspiracy beliefs early in the pandemic (April 2020) would predict a range of concrete health and well-being outcomes eight months later (December 2020).

The results revealed that Covid-19 conspiracy beliefs prospectively predicted a decreased likelihood of getting tested for corona; if tested, an increased likelihood of the test coming out positive; and, an increased likelihood of having violated corona regulations, deteriorated economic outcomes (job loss; reduced income), experiences of social rejection, and decreased overall well-being. Most of these effects generalized to a broader susceptibility to conspiracy theories (i.e. conspiracy mentality).

The authors concluded that conspiracy beliefs are associated with a myriad of negative life outcomes in the long run. Conspiracy beliefs predict how well people have coped with the pandemic over a period of eight months, as reflected in their health behavior, and their economic and social well-being.

These findings tie in with another recent study that investigated whether individual beliefs and personal characteristics differences affect people’s likelihood of contracting COVID-19. In the early months of the pandemic, U.S. participants responded to a variety of individual difference measures as well as questions specific to the pandemic itself. Four months later, 2120 of these participants were asked whether they had contracted COVID-19. Nearly all of the included individual difference measures significantly predicted whether a person reported testing positive for the virus in this four-month period. Additional analyses revealed that all of these relationships were primarily mediated by whether participants held accurate knowledge about COVID-19.

I find it hard not to despair vis a vis such results. Not that they were not to be expected – if you ignore the existence of risk factors exist for heart attacks, it seems plausible that your likelihood of dying of myocardial infarction is increased. What is particularly desolating are two facts:

  • This pandemic seems to have rendered the voices of stupidity and ignorance loud and popular, even fashionable.
  • Those lunatics who adhere to conspiracy beliefs harm not merely themselves but endanger all of us.

I ask myself how we will ever get past this new age of unreason.

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