Department of Political Science

Conspiracy Theories and Their Societal Effects During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review

  • Lotte Pummerer, Leibniz Inst Wissensmedien, Leibniz Institut fur Wissensmedien
  • ,
  • Robert Bohm, University of Copenhagen
  • ,
  • Lau Lilleholt
  • Kevin Winter, Leibniz Inst Wissensmedien, Leibniz Institut fur Wissensmedien
  • ,
  • Ingo Zettler, University of Copenhagen
  • ,
  • Kai Sassenberg, Leibniz-Institut für Wissensmedien, University of Tübingen

During COVID-19, conspiracy theories were intensely discussed in the media. Generally, both believing in conspiracy theories (i.e., explanations for events based on powerholders' secret arrangements) and being confronted with a conspiracy theory have been found to predict cognition and behavior with negative societal effects, such as low institutional trust. Accordingly, believing in conspiracy theories around COVID-19 should reduce institutional trust, support of governmental regulations and their adoption, and social engagement (e.g., helping members of risk groups). We tested these predictions in a national random sample survey, an experiment, and a longitudinal study (N (total) = 1,213; all studies were preregistered). Indeed, believing in and being confronted with a COVID-19 conspiracy theory decreased institutional trust, support of governmental regulations, adoption of physical distancing, and-to some extent-social engagement. Findings underscore the severe societal effects of conspiracy theories in the context of COVID-19.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Psychological and Personality Science
Pages (from-to)49-59
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022
Externally publishedYes

    Research areas

  • conspiracy theory, conspiracy mentality, COVID-19, trust, social influence, EXPOSURE, BELIEF

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