June 16, 2024

Study finds stress linked to acceptance of bogus COVID-19 beliefs, while hope and support offer antidote

Researchers from Rutgers University-Newark have conducted studies shedding light on the reasons behind why some individuals are more likely to embrace conspiracy theories and false beliefs related to COVID-19 compared to others. The findings, recently published in the Journal of Social and Political Psychology, highlight how high levels of emotional distress can contribute to endorsing supernatural explanations for the pandemic, conspiracy theories, and unfounded remedies.

According to psychologists Kent Harber and Valeria Vila, individuals experiencing significant emotional distress, even if unrelated to COVID-19, were more susceptible to denying COVID-related facts and embracing bogus beliefs. However, the researchers also discovered that psychological resources such as hope, purpose, and self-worth acted as a protective factor against bogus beliefs. People with higher levels of these resources were found to be more resilient against misinformation and less likely to deny established facts about COVID-19.

Harber emphasized the impact of distress on individuals’ likelihood to accept facts, stating that highly distressed individuals were less inclined to acknowledge established truths, while those with more psychological resources were more accepting of factual information.

The researchers aimed to understand the prevalence of erroneous beliefs and the rejection of scientific information during the COVID-19 pandemic. They conducted two studies involving 750 adults in the U.S., where participants reported on various stressors, including daily life stress, chronic stress, depression, and COVID-specific stress. Additionally, they rated their psychological resources such as self-esteem, social support, hope, optimism, and sense of purpose.

The central measure used in the study was a COVID Beliefs Survey, encompassing conspiracy theories, bogus beliefs, and factual statements based on scientific evidence and public health guidelines. Participants were asked about their beliefs regarding COVID, including whether it was a hoax or if it could be treated with unconventional remedies like teas and essential oils. Factual statements tested participants’ understanding of basic preventive measures like handwashing and the potential duration of the pandemic.

Harber and Vila found that different types of stress led to varying outcomes, with individuals experiencing general-life distress more likely to endorse false beliefs and deny facts. On the other hand, COVID-specific anxieties were associated with a higher acceptance of facts and adherence to CDC recommendations, despite still holding onto bogus beliefs.

The researchers highlighted that the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the pandemic, including confusion, fear, and unprecedented threats, created an environment conducive to the proliferation of conspiracy theories and misinformation. Harber underscored the importance of addressing psychological well-being alongside physical health during crises, emphasizing the need for effective coping mechanisms and support systems to combat the spread of misinformation.

In conclusion, the study emphasizes the critical role of psychological resources such as hope, purpose, and social support in countering the acceptance of false beliefs and misinformation during times of crisis. By fostering resilience and providing avenues for emotional disclosure, individuals can better cope with distress and make informed decisions based on factual information, ultimately promoting collective well-being and combating the detrimental effects of misinformation on public health.

*Note:
1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it.