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Daily brief research updates from the cognitive sciences

conspiracy brain

We may feel like we’re in an age of conspiracy theories, that social media is turbocharging the wild and wacky theories, and the so-called information bubbles are sending people down conspiracy rabbit holes that the never get out of. I certainly know a few people who seem to have fallen prey to this. Which is why this piece of research caught my eye and initially sounded wrong.

So, belief in conspiracies is not increasing, really?

Yes, really. This is what Joseph Uscinski of the University of Miami reported in a recently published paper. He and fellow collaborators came to this conclusion after four separate analyses in the USA and Europe.

    • Analysed whether beliefs in certain conspiracy theories – including theories related to COVID-19 and the Kennedy assassination – have increased among Americans.
    • Evaluated beliefs in conspiracy theories, including, for example, that human-driven global warming is a hoax, in six European countries.
    • Evaluated Americans’ beliefs in which specific groups are conspiring.
    • And finally, measured general lines of thought in the U.S. related to belief in conspiracy theories.

They found that there was no evidence that conspiracy beliefs have increased over time – this includes, surprisingly, those related to COVID-19 and Q-Anon. This seems to fly in the face of what we experience but we may be forgetting that though social media may increase exposure to conspiracy theories, it also increases our own exposure to these so we may, because of the attention, falsely believe that these are on the rise.

That is comforting – obviously some conspiracies come and recede over time (and I’ve fallen for a few myself). But there is no general increase in conspiracy thinking.

However, what is concerning is that there appears to be a baseline of belief in conspiracy theories – and this ain’t changing.

So that’s good news, no increase, and bad news, the beliefs are here to stay (in different forms).

And this was written by a real human being who cares about the state of the world.

Andy Habermacher

Andy Habermacher

Andy is author of leading brains Review, Neuroleadership, and multiple other books. He has been intensively involved in writing and research into neuroleadership and is considered one of Europe’s leading experts. He is also a well-known public speaker, speaking on the brain and human behaviour.

Andy is also a masters athlete (middle distance running) and competes regularly at international competitions (and holds a few national records in his age category).

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Joseph Uscinski, Adam Enders, Casey Klofstad, Michelle Seelig, Hugo Drochon, Kamal Premaratne, Manohar Murthi.
Have beliefs in conspiracy theories increased over time?
PLOS ONE, 2022; 17 (7): e0270429
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0270429

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