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Coronavirus conspiracy theories have spread rapidly during the pandemic. But does belief in such theories affect how likely someone is to follow Covid-19 public health guidelines?

Understanding perceptions of risk

A research team from our Department of Psychology, led by four students from the inaugural Behavioural Science MSc cohort including current PhD student Jack Hughes, found that strong belief in conspiracy theories was associated with a perception that coronavirus posed a lower risk to health, and a higher risk to the economy and freedom.

This perception of relative risks was in turn linked to lower compliance with public health guidelines such as social distancing, hand washing and stay-at-home measures during the first two lockdown periods.

The findings suggest that risk perception has an important role to play in the relationship between belief in conspiracy theories and whether a person is likely to follow public health measures.

Informing public health messaging

The researchers believe that the findings could help policy makers and public health officials understand and respond to the challenges posed by conspiracy theories in relation to following government guidance and inform the development of public health messaging and communications.

They argue that it is this understanding of individual risk perceptions that is crucial when trying to change behaviour, more so than whether a person is a conspiracy theory believer or not.

Informing major global challenges

Understanding this relationship between conspiracy theories and individual risk perceptions could potentially be relevant to other major global challenges such as climate change, to help governments increase understanding across different groups.

Find out more

  • The Impact of Risk Perceptions and Belief in Conspiracy Theories on COVID-19 Pandemic-related Behaviours is published in PLOS-One. Read the full paper here.
  • Find out more abut undergraduate and postgraduate study opportunities in our Psychology department, including our Behavioural Science MSc.