Yet, conspiracy beliefs do not seem to satisfy these psychological needs and may actually make things worse for people, increasing their uncertainty and anxiety. Conspiracy theories don’t just affect people’s state of mind, they can also impact behaviour.
For instance, people who believe in anti-vaccine conspiracy theories - such as the idea that pharmaceutical companies cover up the dangers of vaccines - reported more negative attitudes towards vaccinations and an increased feeling of powerlessness one month later. This is what makes it so important to reach out to conspiracy believers.
What we have learned
One important tool to reduce conspiracy beliefs is the power of social norms. People overestimate how much others believe in conspiracy theories, which influences how intensely they buy in themselves. A study in 2021 found that countering this misconception with information about what people actually believe diluted the strength of anti-vaccine conspiracy beliefs among a sample of UK adults.
Inoculation is a promising route, too. Giving people factual information in advance of exposure to conspiracy theories can reduce belief in them. This approach could work well in cases like vaccination where people might not think much about the issue before it becomes important to them (for example when they need to decide whether to have their children vaccinated).
You can inoculate yourself too. Research has found that the way people think about control can reduce the likelihood they will subscribe to conspiracy theories. People who are focused on achieving goals find conspiracy theories less appealing than those who fixate on protecting what they already have. The authors of this paper argued that concentrating on shaping your future fosters a sense of control, which reduces conspiracy beliefs.