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Different Conspiracy Theories Have Different Psychological and Social Determinants: Comparison of Three Theories About the Origins of the COVID-19 Virus in a Representative Sample of the UK Population

Hartman, TK; Marshall, M; Stocks, TVA; McKay, R; Bennett, K; Butter, S; Gibson Miller, J; ... Bentall, RP; + view all (2021) Different Conspiracy Theories Have Different Psychological and Social Determinants: Comparison of Three Theories About the Origins of the COVID-19 Virus in a Representative Sample of the UK Population. Frontiers in Political Science , 3 , Article 642510. 10.3389/fpos.2021.642510. Green open access

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Abstract

COVID-19 conspiracy theories have proliferated during the global pandemic, and their rapid spread among certain groups may jeopardize the public health response (e.g., undermining motivation to engage in social distancing and willingness to vaccinate against the virus). Using survey data from two waves of a nationally representative, longitudinal study of life in lockdown in the United Kingdom (N = 1,406), we analyze the factors associated with belief in three origin theories related to COVID-19, namely that it 1) originated in a meat market in Wuhan, China; 2) was developed in a lab in Wuhan, China; and 3) is caused by 5G mobile networks. Our findings suggest that political-psychological predispositions are strongly associated with belief in conspiracy theories about the virus, though the direction and effect sizes of these predictors vary depending on the specific content of each origin theory. For instance, belief in the Chinese lab conspiracy theory is strongly associated with right-wing authoritarianism (RWA), social dominance orientation (SDO), and general conspiracy ideation, as well as less reliable news sources, distrust in scientists, and anxiety about the pandemic. Belief in the 5G network conspiracy theory is strongly associated with SDO, distrust in scientists, while less strongly with conspiracy ideation and information from social networks/media; RWA is strongly negatively associated with belief in the 5G conspiracy theory, with older and more wealthy individuals somewhat less likely to endorse it. The meat market origin theory is predicted by intolerance of uncertainty, ethnocentrism, COVID-19 anxiety, and less so by higher income, while distrust in scientists is negatively associated with this origin story. Finally, belief in COVID-19 conspiracy theories is associated with negative public health behaviors such as unwillingness to social distance and vaccinate against the virus. Crucially, our findings suggest that the specific content of COVID-19 conspiracy theories likely determines which individuals may be most likely to endorse them.

Type: Article
Title: Different Conspiracy Theories Have Different Psychological and Social Determinants: Comparison of Three Theories About the Origins of the COVID-19 Virus in a Representative Sample of the UK Population
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.3389/fpos.2021.642510
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpos.2021.642510
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © 2021 Hartman, Marshall, Stocks, McKay, Bennett, Butter, Gibson Miller, Hyland, Levita, Martinez, Mason, McBride, Murphy, Shevlin, Vallières and Bentall. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
Keywords: COVID-19, conspiracy theories, right-wing authoritarianism, social dominance orientation, predisposition, motivated reasoning
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology > Imaging Neuroscience
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10145225
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