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To counter conspiracy theories, boost well-being

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Conspiracy theories can undermine political participation, discourage environmental protection, and incite violence. Joining online conspiracy-theory communities, such as QAnon, may contribute to violent extremism, according to an analysis this year (A. Amarasingam and M.-A. Argentino CTC Sentinel 13(7), 37-44; 2020 ). And those who believe in conspiracy theories are less likely than those who don’t follow public-health measures. The World Health Organization has called on countries to manage the spread of false information.

but how? I was part of a network of over 100 academics that produced this year’s Routledge Handbook of Conspiracy Theories. Of its 48 chapters, only one directly addresses how to combat conspiracy theories. It concludes that it is easier to disprove them than to refute them. It is very difficult to repair ingrained beliefs.

So it is better to try to root out lies than to root them out. That means looking beyond the platforms and algorithms that promote their content and their dissemination. We need to examine what makes people susceptible. I study how psychological traits and objectives affect beliefs. Ideological beliefs are a product of top-to-bottom signals from politicians and the media, and a bottom-up psychological system.

Hundreds of studies have applied this model to conspiracy beliefs, collecting both experimental and correlational data. My colleagues and I suggest that three broad psychological needs fall under conspiracy beliefs: the need to understand the world; to feel safe; And feeling and feeling good about yourself and your social groups.

People who feel defensive about themselves are more likely than others to adopt conspiracy theories, perhaps to deflect blame for their own shortcomings. Conspiracy beliefs have also been linked to feelings of powerlessness, anxiety, isolation and alienation. Those who feel they are unimportant in the political system tend to assume that there are nefarious effects at play.

Politicians who feel threatened give vent to these fears. In the midst of this year’s presidential campaign, US President Donald Trump talked about “dark shadows” and planes full of thugs. Similarly, Jarosaw Kaczyski, leader of Poland’s Law and Justice Party, insisted last month that the protests against abortion bans were organized with the aim of destroying the nation, and that they bear the marks of special training.

The pandemic set off a perfect storm for the vulnerability of conspiracy narratives. Uncertainty and worry are high. Lockdown and social distancing bring isolation. Those struggling to make sense of this unprecedented time may reach for extraordinary explanations.

So will recovery from pandemic mean recovery from ‘infodemic’? I am not scared.

At first, being able to mix more freely may reduce some social needs – but feelings of sadness, uncertainty, powerlessness and marginalization will continue for those who have lost health, loved ones, jobs, education, etc. . Recovery plans must look beyond economic ups and downs and physical health. Ignoring a mental-health crisis is a risk of retaining information.

Second, we know very little about how individuals’ vulnerability to conspiracy theories changes over time. Even daily psychological ups and downs may play a role: People are more likely to entertain conspiracy theories in anxiety-inducing moments. And it is also important to understand the long-term effects of major life or world events.

An analysis of letters written between 1890 and 2010 to the editors of The New York Times and Chicago Tribune in the early 1950s, after World War II (JE Uschinsky and JM Parent American Conspiracy Theories ggtcsb; 2014). Yet longitudinal research in the field, particularly on changes within the individual, is difficult and scarce. The growth of studies tracking psychological responses to epidemics may provide insights to guide interventions.

In the meantime, we must not give up on other methods of correcting misinformation and preventing its spread. Debunking is extremely difficult, but can work. Rather than describing the information as false or misleading, the debunker should explain why something is wrong, drawing attention to the strategies used to deceive and provide the facts.

‘Prebanking’ is more effective. Like the misinformed vaccine, this technology warns people that they may be exposed to misinformation before they buy it. Online games like Bad News and Go Viral! Show how fake news is spread, and make people more skeptical. Encouraging people to consider accuracy discourages them from sharing fake news.

These effects can be amplified by addressing the psychological needs of people. This is against conspiracy theories and other misinformation.

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