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It’s a common belief for which evidence seems useless. Along the same lines as the information epidemic, which consists in believing that misinformation has never existed more, and believing that we have never subscribed to conspiracy theories, it seems needless to say. However, the concept of an information epidemic is widely questioned in the social science literature. Political scientists have also questioned the prevailing popular narrative that support for conspiracy theories has never been higher than it is today. Their study was published on July 20 in Public Library of Science OneAnd the It contradicts this hypothesis.
In order to justify the need for their study, the researchers showed that most Americans (73%) believe conspiracy theories are out of control and more than half (59%) believe they have been around for more than 25 years today. In France, there is little data on this topic, but press investigations or artistic creations Show that the topic is getting increasing attention. This type of assertion is found in political and journalistic discourse along with other trivialities such as the fact that social networks And the Internet He will be responsible and that we are in a post-truth era (which are very controversial hypotheses in the literature). For the authors, showing that a large percentage of the population adhere to conspiracy theories is not enough to answer the above question. In fact, it is essential to be able to compare data over time. That’s the challenge they took on by measuring the appeal of conspiracy theories in four different ways.
Membership, conspiracy and conspiracy thinking
In the first two studies conducted, investigators measured direct adherence to various conspiracy theories Using closed surveys, between American and European populations. In the third study, they assessed respondents’ tendency to believe in conspiratorial groups, without focusing on specific conspiracy theories. Finally, in the fourth study, they focused on the way of thinking conspirator.
Here’s what to take away from its findings. First of all, on short time scales (from 7 months to 1 year), stick to conspiracy theories on recent news topics (Covid-19 pandemic, Qnoun movement) does not appear to have increased in the US population. On the other hand, when we focus on other conspiracy theories on different time scales (from a few years to half a century), it appears that support for 6 of them (including Big Pharma or the assassination of President Kennedy) increased from 37 theories tested (15 theories remained stable) and 16 showed a decline in support).
For the authors, it is clearly not enough to speak of generalized adhesion and a true increase over time given that Magnitude – The trend of noticeable decrease or increase – The decrease in membership is more important than the increase. On the European side, seven theories were tested on large samples in several countries (Italy, Sweden, Poland, Great Britain, Germany and Portugal). The only thing that showed a slight increase was Holocaust denial in Sweden from 1% to 3%. All other conspiracy theories point to low membership. The researchers recommend interpreting these results with caution as few theories have been tested.
Regarding support for the belief that there are conspiratorial groups, although in absolute value (of the nine conspiratorial groups, US participants increased their support for six of them), we note an increase, when we focus on size, a decrease in support for the other three groups greater than the increase observed in the six groups other combined. Here, too, it is difficult to conclude that there is a real increase. Finally, for conspiracy thinking style (assessed by a psychologically valid questionnaire), which is perhaps the most relevant variable, we observe an upward trend between 2012 and 2016 but a fairly clear stabilization overall into 2021.
What do we conclude from this?
Holding onto conspiracy theories is a real and undeniable social problem. This is not the goal of the authors of this study. They consider the work of psychological researchers specializing in conspiracy to be essential. However, this popular belief that support for conspiracy theories has never been higher than it is today, combined with the pandemic and the post-truth era, could have social and political consequences, particularly by pointing the finger at new scapegoats who haven’t It didn’t exist before. It will be the cause of the current ills of society. For the authors, this lack of general increase suggests that support for conspiracy theories is, in a way, a ubiquitous characteristic of human societies.
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