Socio-Psychological Predictors of Belief in Conspiracy Theories of the Origin of COVID-19 and Involvement in Social Media

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Abstract

Objective. Search for socio-psychological antecedents for the individual’s belief in conspiracy theories of the origin of the pandemic. Revealing the dynamics of Internet users’ attitudes to the coronavirus pandemic in March-early June 2020. Background. As part of the study of the psychological mechanisms of the impact of the pandemic on the individual and society, an increasingly urgent task is to clarify the socio-psychological prerequisites of belief in conspiracy theories of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the relationship between attitudes towards the pandemic and the involvement of the individual in the use of social media. Study design. The paper presents the results of two online surveys conducted in March-April and May-June 2020 to study the dynamics of Russians’ belief in conspiracy theories of the origin of the COVID-19, taking into account involvement in social media and gender differences. Participants. The first study involved 668 people (78.2% women) aged 17 to 80 years (M=30; SD=12.7); the second survey involved 986 people (56.9% — men) aged 18 to 76 years (M=36.63; SD=10.2). The survey geography covered various regions of Russia. Measurements. The basic tool in both studies was developed by T.A. Nestik questionnaire “Attitude towards the epidemiological threat”. The first study additionally measured the social axioms (SAS), moral foundations (MFQ), belief in the justice of the world and trust in social institutions. The second study additionally measured involvement in social media communications. Results. The 1st study found a connection between conspiracy beliefs and belief in a just world, low self-efficacy, moral foundations of ingroup/loyalty and authority/respect, low institutional trust, and social cynicism. In the 2nd study, it was shown that, compared to March-April, the level of belief of social media users in conspiracy theories of the origin of the pandemic, the severity of distrust in the health care system and skepticism about vaccinations significantly increased; both the fear of infection and the controllability of the threat have become less, but fears of a recurrence of epidemics have increased. It is shown that involvement in social media increases anxiety about the consequences of the coronavirus crisis, which in turn intensifies the search for conspiracy explanations of pandemic. Conclusions. Low social trust and the experience of an uncontrollable threat increase the susceptibility of social media users to belief in conspiracy theories of the origin of the pandemic.

General Information

Keywords: attitudes towards the pandemic, COVID-19, moral foundations, social axioms, trust, social media

Journal rubric: Empirical Research

Article type: scientific article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.17759/sps.2020110407

Funding. The reported study was funded by Russian Foundation for Basic Research (RFBR), project № 18-18- 00439

For citation: Nestik T.A., Deyneka O.S., Maksimenko A.A. Socio-Psychological Predictors of Belief in Conspiracy Theories of the Origin of COVID-19 and Involvement in Social Media . Sotsial'naya psikhologiya i obshchestvo = Social Psychology and Society, 2020. Vol. 11, no. 4, pp. 87–104. DOI: 10.17759/sps.2020110407. (In Russ., аbstr. in Engl.)

References

 

Information About the Authors

Timofey A. Nestik, Doctor of Psychology, professor, Head of the Laboratory of Social and Economic Psychology, Institute of Psychology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Senior Researcher, Department of Personality Psychology, Lomonosov Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-1410-4762, e-mail: nestik@ipras.ru

Olga S. Deyneka, Doctor of Psychology, Professor, Professor of the Department of Political Psychology, Saint-Petersburg State University, St.Petersburg, Russia, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8224-2190, e-mail: osdeyneka@yandex.ru

Aleksandr A. Maksimenko, Doctor of Sociology, PhD in Psychology, Professor of the Department of Psychology, HSE University, Moscow, Russia, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0891-4950, e-mail: maximenkoal@gmail.com

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