How Should You Talk To A Loved One Who Believes In Conspiracy Theories

Posted on July 7, 2021

There are a number of reasons someone may be attracted to a conspiracy theory, often related to frustrated psychological needs.

“The first of these needs are epistemic, related to the need to know the truth and have clarity and certainty” explains Karen M. Douglas, Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Kent. “The other needs are existential, which are related to the need to feel safe and to have some control over things that are happening around us, and social, which are related to the need to maintain our self-esteem and feel positive about the groups that we belong to.”

So, for instance, if someone is anxious about the pandemic and feels out of control, they may be drawn to theories that suggest it is false, satisfying their existential needs. If they are frustrated about a particularly political situation, they may start exploring apparently clear-cut solutions to unanswerable questions, satisfying their epistemic needs.

In an ideal world, we would prevent conspiracy theories from taking root in the first place. As Douglas and her colleague Daniel Jolley note in their study on the anti-vaccination movement, “inoculation” can prevent the influence of conspiracy theories to begin with.

They found that anti-conspiracy arguments increased intention to vaccinate a child when presented before conspiracy theories. But once these conspiracies were established, they were much more difficult to correct, even with arguments that were factual and seemed logical.

So talking to somebody before they become immersed in the world of conspiracy theories could be a way of preventing it altogether.

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Source material from British Psychological Society Digest

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