The rapid outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) resulted in a pandemic known as the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
recent Scientific report The study assessed the influence of religiosity, education, trust in scientists and political orientation on people’s belief in Covid-19-related conspiracy theories (CTs) in Europe.
Study: Exploring COVID-19 Conspiracy Theories: Education, Religiosity, Trust in Scientists and Political Orientation in 26 European Countries. Image credit: Liftwood/Shutterstock.com
Although CT is ubiquitous, its prevalence in Western societies has become more dominant in times of crisis, emergency, and uncertainty. A small but important group of individuals or organizations constitutes the City.
Their main objective is to covertly develop and promote content for a personal benefit that is against the common good. This misinformation significantly affects social and political events
As expected, several CTs have emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although CTs were initiated since the first news about the epidemic, their number increased sharply after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the global SARS-CoV-2 outbreak a pandemic.
Governments around the world have implemented national lockdowns to prevent further spread of SARS-CoV-2. During the lockdown, the use of social media increased significantly. The main vectors for the spread of COVID-19-related CT are Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. These platforms have created an “infodemic” that has fueled widespread skepticism about COVID-19 events.
The rapid spread of the infodemic has significant consequences because it may affect people’s adherence to COVID-19 preventive measures, such as wearing facemasks, social gatherings, and vaccinations. Historically, the general belief in CT has greatly hindered mass vaccination. Similarly, COVID-19-related CTs have increased vaccination resistance.
Previous studies have also indicated that cities develop and spread due to political and psychological agendas. Conspiratorial thinking and social disadvantage, including ethnic minorities, are associated with urban development.
Psychological factors (eg, different personality traits, emotions, “us vs. them” worldviews, biases, intuitive and delusional thinking styles), trust in science, education, political orientation, and religiosity also influence CT. It is essential to understand how CT related to COVID-19 has impacted countries around the world.
About the study
The present study explored how education, political orientation, trust in scientists, and religiosity influence public support for CT.
This study analyzed data from the latest 10th European Social Survey (ESS10) round. The primary data collection method of ESS10 involved a face-to-face standardized survey questionnaire. The most recent ESS10 data, published in May 2023, includes data from 26 European countries.
55,555 interviews were conducted with individuals over the age of 15, regardless of citizenship, nationality, language or legal status.
Although initially descriptive analysis was conducted comparing 26 countries, multilevel and by-country regressions were subsequently conducted to determine the contribution of each predictor. This study found that CTs have spread to many Western democracies and prompted protest movements against policy measures implemented to contain COVID-19.
Consistent with previous studies, education was an essential covariate of belief in COVID-19-related CT in Europe. Previous studies have indicated that highly educated individuals are better trained in logical and analytical thinking. These people are aware of counterarguments, which makes them resistant to believing CT.
Highly educated people were more skeptical of the idea that complex problems have simple solutions and were more skeptical of CT. However, this study revealed that the correlation between educational level and belief in CT was not consistent across individuals.
A positive relationship was found between religiosity and CT. Those who claim to be religious are more skeptical of science and lean more toward conservatism and traditionalism more often endorsing CT.
Apocalyptic beliefs may drive support for CT. CT is also associated with quasi-religious elements, including mysticism, divination, and millenarianism. An orthodox religious belief, i.e., fundamentalism, significantly affects CT.
A lower trust in scientists was strongly associated with a tendency to support CT. Rejection or mistrust of science and suspicious behavior toward scientists were strongly associated with higher susceptibility to COVID-19-related misinformation.
In contrast, a higher trust in scientists was associated with greater adherence to policies generated to contain the epidemic. For example, people with high trust in science are less likely to trust CTs who have claimed that COVID-19 vaccines are unsafe and less effective.
Political extremism is strongly dichotomous, i.e. involved in black-and-white observations. For example, political extremism tends to categorize events as good or bad.
This study highlights that CTs can undermine trust in public health institutions and policies developed and implemented to control epidemics. Unlike education, trust in scientists, religiosity, and political orientation moderately affect people’s CT beliefs.
It was recommended to develop policies tailored to different demographic groups and engage them with effective communication strategies to address CT and their evolving nature.