People Who Believe COVID Conspiracies More Likely to Test Positive, Study Confirms

Since the beginning of the pandemic, conspiracies about COVID-19 have been spreading like wildfire. They disseminated a lot of misinformation about vaccines and the virus, and it has tragically cost many lives.
A new study has highlighted the dangers of COVID conspiracy theory beliefs. It shows how these beliefs can influence and predict people's behavior and potentially expose them to greater infection risk.

Researchers explain that even though a conspiracy theory may seem extremely unlikely based on logic or scientific evidence, if it appears real to a perceiver it can have an impact on attitudes and emotions as well as behavior," Jan-Willem van Prooijen, a social psychologist from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, explains in a new paper.

Many studies have shown that conspiracy theories can be consequential in the lives and behavior of true believers.

Research has shown that the link between COVID-19 conspiracy theories and attitudes that could compromise public health is strong in the age of coronavirus. This includes less support for restrictive measures and physical distancing, as well as less intent to get vaccinated.

However, research has not yet revealed how belief in COVID-19 conspiracy theories affects people's wellbeing and health in the context the pandemic.

Van Prooijen, along with other researchers, surveyed 5,745 people in a panel that was weighted to ensure a representative sample of the Dutch national population.

The cohort was asked several questions to measure their belief in COVID-19 conspiracy theories, including whether the coronavirus was a bioweapon designed by scientists, a conspiracy against citizens' rights or a cover up for the impending global financial crash.

The same group was again surveyed several months later. This time, they were asked questions such as whether they had ever been tested for the virus and whether the test was positive or not. They also answered questions regarding whether they had ever violated COVID-19 regulations.

According to their beliefs about COVID-19 conspiracy theories, the results suggested that there was a lower chance of being tested for the virus than the researchers expected.

The results showed that conspiracy theorists were more likely than participants who did not have a COVID-19 testing.

Researchers hypothesized that this result was possible because conspiracy theorists are more likely to be infected by the virus than others. However, they were also less likely to undergo asymptomatic testing.

The data did not support all the researchers' hypotheses, but they did show that those who believed in COVID-19 conspiracy theories were more likely than others to have had too many visitors to their homes during COVID restrictions. They were also more likely to have visited overcrowded bars, restaurants, or parties.

Additionally, conspiratorial thinkers were more likely than others to have lost their income and employment during the pandemic. Data also suggested that they were more likely experience social rejection due to their views.

Researchers write that "Intolerance for conspiracy believers is consistent the notion of stigmatizing conspiracy beliefs and can decrease people’s social support network."

However, there are limitations to the conclusions that can be drawn from this study. Researchers emphasize that the experiment cannot prove causality (about things such as COVID-19 results, employment prospects and people's social circle), and other factors could be responsible for the results.

It is also important to note that this survey is only a snapshot of time and only includes participants from the Netherlands. The cohort included only those who believed in COVID-19 conspiracy beliefs.

However, researchers believe there is still something happening here, which suggests that belief in COVID-19 conspiracy theories might eventually pose a dangerous, or even fatal, disadvantage to an individual.

The team wrote that believing conspiracy theories in the early stages of the pandemic can predict a wide range of health- and well-being outcomes eighteen months later.

"Conspiracy beliefs can predict how people will cope with the challenges of global pandemics, and this has significant implications for public and private health as well as perceivers' economic and socio-economic well-being."

These findings were published in Psychological Medicine.