- Researchers surveyed people in five countries to assess which coronavirus-related conspiracy theories have taken root.
- The most popular theory suggests the virus was “bioengineered in a laboratory in Wuhan.” Between 22% and 23% of Americans and Britons viewed that as “reliable.”
- The study found that people who are older, numerically savvy, and trust scientists are less likely to fall for coronavirus misinformation.
- Genetic evidence discredits the theory that the coronavirus was man-made.
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Lingering uncertainty how the coronavirus pandemic started creates fertile territory for conspiracy theories.
About one in four Americans and Britons think the idea that the virus was engineered in a Wuhan laboratory is a “reliable” claim, according to a recent study, despite abundant scientific evidence to the contrary.
The research, published earlier this week in the journal Royal Society for Open Science, found that an even higher portion of respondents in Ireland and Spain — 26% and 33%, respectively — put stock in that theory, as do nearly 40% of survey participants in Mexico.
“Certain misinformation claims are consistently seen as reliable by substantial sections of the public,” Sander van der Linden, a co-author of the new study and a social psychologist at the University of Cambridge, said in a press release.
What’s more, people who found the lab conspiracy idea reliable were generally more hesitant about getting a coronavirus vaccine.
“We find a clear link between believing coronavirus conspiracies and hesitancy around any future vaccine,” van der Linden added.
People who trust scientists are less likely to fall for misinformation
The study authors sent an online survey to groups of 700 people in the US, Mexico, Ireland, and Spain, and to more than 1,000 people in the UK. They asked participants to rate how reliable certain statements about COVID-19 were on a scale of 1 to 7, and also asked about participants’ attitudes about a vaccine.
The researchers wanted to assess whether certain beliefs or demographics are correlated with how susceptible a person is to misinformation.
The results showed that respondents with “significantly and consistently” low levels of susceptibility to false information in all five countries also declared they trusted scientists and scored highly on a series of tasks designed to test their understanding of probability. Being older was linked to lower susceptibility to misinformation as well, in every country surveyed except Mexico.
Additionally, those who reported trusting their politicians to effectively tackle the crisis in Mexico, Spain, and the US were more likely to fall for conspiracy theories.
The study also found that respondents in Ireland, the UK, and the US who were exposed to coronavirus information on social media were more susceptible to misinformation.
Van der Linden’s team also found that as participants’ susceptibility increased, their intent to get vaccinated or recommend the vaccine to friends