Anti-vaccines, chemstrail (also called chemtrails) to modify the climate and cause diseases, 5G as a vehicle to spread the coronavirus … In the last year and a half we have seen how the proliferation of theories without scientific basis has suffered an uncontrolled increase. To such an extent that the World Health Organization already refers to it as a second pandemic: the infodemic .
But conspiracy theories are not a new phenomenon . As Professor Joe Uscinski, author of American Conspiracy Theories, told the BBC : “Everyone believes in some and perhaps more than one. The reason is simple: there are an infinite number of conspiracy theories out there. If we did a survey, everyone would check several boxes. “
The phenomenon, of course, is not unique to the United States, although perhaps in this country some of the most bizarre and at the same time entrenched theories of all time have emerged. A 2015 study by the University of Cambridge, UK, found that the majority of Britons ticked a box after being presented with a list of five theories.
“Nos resulta más fácil aceptar una teoría de la conspiración porque la realidad es mucho más caótica, azarosa y difícil de asumir”, explicaba al mismo medio Chris French, psicólogo y profesor de la Universidad de Goldsmith, en Londres. Añadiendo que es difícil de definir el perfil de persona que se deja arrastrar por dichas teorías: “cuando miras los datos demográficos, las creencias en conspiraciones atraviesa las clases sociales, el género y la edad”. Sobre ello volveremos un poco mas adelante.
The first thing would be to ask: why do we believe in these conspiracies? Experts, including Dr. Mike Wood, a psychologist at the University of Winchester, point out that “when you don’t feel in control of your life, in situations of stress or anguish, you become much more susceptible to believing in conspiracies.”
Fear can do everything
Recent research shows that there is a strong link between stress and the credibility of conspiracy theories. This explains, therefore, that in recent months a large number of theories have appeared without any real or scientific basis linked to the coronavirus crisis . According to experts, the breeding ground for this phenomenon to occur was the ideal one: a situation that is lived with great fear and uncertainty , where there is little information or knowledge about the virus and where science, at least temporarily, it cannot give us answers or solutions .
These theories, for their part, offer easy-to-believe answers. Especially because, as Professor French explains, the human being needs to look for ‘a culprit’ and they give him a name and surname. They signal the enemy to fight. “We assume that when something happens, it happens because someone or something did it for a reason . “
For Kate Starbird, a professor at the University of Washington who specializes in the reaction of social networks to crises and with several studies on the online spread of rumors, it is a natural mental process: “I don’t think it’s bad to try to understand what happens, it is part of human psychology . We want clear explanations that make sense for events like mass shootings or terrorist attacks, “he explains.” We find it easier to accept a conspiracy theory in which someone pulls the strings because reality … reality is much more chaotic and hazardous, and it is very difficult to assume something like that ”. In some way, conspiracy theories allow us to regain a certain degree of control over an environment that surpasses us .
However, for the specialist, the problem arises when from this natural process there are people who intentionally design a specific speech for their own benefit. “The process of finding the meaning of something, the natural process, is hijacked by people who somehow want to have that other conversation. And they do it for different reasons ”. In most cases, these purposes are economic – generating audiences that increase web page traffic, for example – or ideological. In fact, as we have been able to verify during the pandemic, there is also a certain discredit of the institutions and a great political polarization.
Therefore, in a scenario dominated by fear and mistrust, there will be greater receptivity to theories without scientific basis . Something that added to the digital age considerably increases the population’s access to these theories and diffusion through the network.
However, and when it comes especially to issues related to people’s health, these types of beliefs can cause very pernicious damage: as is happening with severe patients with Covid who have not wanted to be vaccinated or with previous anti-vaccine movements that have caused that children in developed countries have been infected with diseases believed to be eradicated such as diphtheria or rubella .
Matter of faith
But let’s go back to the beginning. Are there people more receptive than others to believe in these types of theories? There are various investigations that have studied the profile of those who are supposed to be more susceptible. Most have concluded that having less analytical thinking , a lower educational level, a greater tendency to overestimate the probability of co-occurrence of events or a greater tendency to perceive intentionality when it does not exist are factors that help.
To which should be added other groups such as those of those people who present higher levels of anxiety and loss of psychological empowerment and, even, those who identify with political orientations that are not in the majority or with a greater feeling of lack of power.