We are now seeing face to face client again using masks and gloves to protect clients from Covid while visiting our clinics. We also offer video call sessions.
Monday, 08 Jun 2020

Why are so Many People turning to Conspiracy Theories to Explain Covid-19?

By Dr Becky Spelman
Conspiracy Theories and Covid-19 | Private Therapy Clinic

Throughout human history, people have struggled to make sense of anything that is experienced as unknown or unpredictable. Often, we attribute anything we do not understand to the supernatural. “An act of God” is a term still used by the insurance industry to describe events so unusual that they could not have been foreseen; it is usually applied to natural disasters.

Now that the world is grappling with the novel disease Covid-19, a lot of people are turning to conspiracy theories to provide them with the explanations and certainties that they desperately crave to make sense of it.

Researcher Karen Douglas of the University of Kent studies the psychology of conspiracy theories, which typically seek to explain phenomena often experienced as puzzling or frightening by claiming that they are the result of a secret plan by a powerful group of people. Over the years, there have been countless conspiracy theories about groups such as the Masons, about the government, about particular cultural, ethnic, or religious groups, industries such as “Big Pharma”, and so on. These theories can be harmless, but they can also be extremely dangerous. For example, when a particular ethnic or cultural group is blamed for a stressful situation, this can inspire people to engage in violence against them. In another case, the theory that western governments were using vaccination programmes in Africa to secretly sterilise women resulted in a reduction in children being presented for vaccination, and a subsequent surge in preventable illness.

Currently, the social media is swirling with conspiracy theories about Covid-19, which is variously attributed to governments or other figures who want to use it to frighten people into accepting vaccines that will involve inserting microchips to control populations, to the idea that China deliberately created and released the virus to weaken western governments, and much more.

What makes conspiracy theories so attractive, and why do so many people believe in them?

Even though conspiracy theories can be dangerous, they can serve some psychological needs. Human beings typically hate uncertainty, and will go to great lengths to gain a feeling of control over their environment or situation. Conspiracy theories thrive in uncertain circumstances. When we are confronted with a scary situation, such as the possibility of getting sick with a new disease that is still imperfectly understood, it is tempting to gain a sense of control over it by subscribing to a belief system that claims to have access to “the truth” or “the real story”. Conspiracy theories can also provide a degree of comfort in being part of an in-group (those who believe in and propagate the conspiracy theory) while others ignore the theory or refuse to believe that it is true.

Conspiracy theories are fascinating to psychologists, folklorists, anthropologists, and other scholars, but they can have serious consequences. Today, we are dealing with the risk that those who subscribe to conspiracy theories about Covid-19 will fail to follow health advice, elevating the potential for harm to themselves and others. If they believe that doctors and the pharmaceutical industry are “in on it”, they may tend to avoid potentially life-saving medicine. In other words, tempting as conspiracy theories can be, they can also be very dangerous—especially when we are genuinely facing risk.

WHO CAN I SPEAK TO FURTHER ABOUT THE ISSUES IN THIS ARTICLE?

For help with the issues discussed in this article speak to one of our therapists here at Private Therapy Clinic for a free initial chat or to make an appointment.

References

Karen M. Douglas, Robbie M. Sutton, and Aleksandra Cichocka, “The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories”, Current Directions in Psychological Science 2017, Vol. 26(6) 538–542.

Karen M. Douglas,  Joseph E. Uscinski,  Robbie M. Sutton,  Aleksandra Cichocka,  Turkay Nefes,  Chee Siang Ang,  Farzin Deravi, “Understanding Conspiracy Theories”, Advances in Political Psychology, Vol. 4, Issue S1.

Check out other related articles

  • 18 Mar 2020

    Coronavirus: The Psychology of Stockpiling and Panic Buying

    As the Coronavirus has become more of an ever-present topic of discussion in the mainstream media, it’s brought with it more than just the threat of contracting the virus, itself. The last couple of weeks have seen people all over the globe resorting to stockpiling - or panic buying - specific ite.....

  • 07 May 2020

    3 Ways You Can Reduce Coronavirus Anxiety

    You don't need to have an official diagnosis of anxiety for it to affect your life. It's an emotion that exists on a sliding scale, and in times of adversity can manifest in even the most grounded people. We all have fears. They're a normal part of life. But when we allow them to run rampant, they c.....

  • 21 Mar 2020

    How to Take Care of your Mental Health during the Coronavirus Pandemic

    Anxiety disorders can soar when people are confronted with a threat that they do not understand and feel that they have no control over. There is no point in pretending that the coronavirus isn’t scary, because it is. We’re all reading the papers and watching the news, and we know that this is a.....

  • 19 May 2020

    Why Fear is Your Real Enemy (Not the Coronavirus)

    There's no doubt that the Coronavirus is a genuine concern that we should all be protecting ourselves against. But there is a psychological component that can't be overlooked that is equally is not more pervasive than COVID-19 itself. In many ways, fear is the real contagion that we're trying to kee.....

  • 04 May 2020

    6 Ways You Can Maintain a Positive Family Dynamic During Quarantine

    One of the most immediate ways the coronavirus outbreak has affected our daily lives is in how we relate to one another. Not only is there now a culture of suspicion and avoidance on the streets, but we've also been forced to live in close quarters for extended periods. .....