The Conversation: How to talk about conspiracy theories in five easy steps

The Conversation: How to talk about conspiracy theories in five easy steps

Vaccination against the coronavirus – illustrative photo.

London – The instinctive reaction in conversations with people who believe in conspiracy theories is often to try to disprove their beliefs with facts or authoritative communication of information. But direct confrontation rarely works. Conspiracy theories are compelling and mostly target emotions and a sense of personal identity. Even if you succeed in debunking conspiracy theories, it's hard to keep up with how quickly they appear and spread. Studies from 2015 and 2016, for example, showed that the spreaders of conspiracy theories about the Zika virus on Twitter outnumbered those who tried to disprove the theory twice, writes The Conversation server.

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People who are attracted to conspiracy theories seek to satisfy three basic psychological needs. They want more security, to feel in control and to maintain a positive image of themselves and the group they belong to. These needs are especially unfulfilled in times of crisis, such as the covid-19 pandemic, when the effort to understand the world around us becomes all the more urgent.

But conspiracy theories not only do not satisfy these needs, they can contribute to a feeling of uncertainty and anxiety in people. In addition, according to a study published on the website of the scientific journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin in 2021, they not only affect the state of mind, but also behavior.

For example, people who, based on anti-vaccination conspiracy theories, said they believed that pharmaceutical companies hide the dangers associated with vaccines, after a month they not only continued to have a negative attitude towards vaccination, but also an increased feeling of helplessness. This is precisely why it is important to have a dialogue with supporters of conspiracies.

The power of social norms can be an important tool in limiting the influence of conspiracy theories. People overestimate how much others believe similar theories, which contributes to their own vulnerability to conspiracies. Giving information about what people really believe can dispel this misconception. According to a 2021 study, a sample of adults in Britain managed to weaken conspiracies-based resistance to vaccination.

The way people think about control can make them less likely to buy into conspiracy theories, according to research. Goal-oriented individuals find conspiracy theories less appealing than people fixated on protecting what they already have. The authors of a 2018 study say that focusing on shaping one's future promotes a sense of control, which reduces susceptibility to conspiracy theories.

The following steps, backed by scientific research, can help you navigate challenging conversations with people who believe in similar theories:< /p>

1. Keep an open mind

An open approach is based on asking questions and listening and contributes to understanding the other side. Listen carefully and avoid defending your own opinions. Try asking the following questions: When did you start believing it? How did it affect you psychologically? What does this opinion offer you?

2. Be receptive

To boost your own empathy, try focusing on what psychologists call conversational receptivity. It can bridge the gap between the opinions that each of you hold. Say things like: I understand that… Do you mean…? How do you feel about it? Tell me more about… I'm listening. Thank you for telling me.

3. Critical Thinking

Appeal to the value of critical thinking. If the person you're talking to sees themselves as critical, try to focus on exploring the conspiracy theory itself more deeply. To compare and consider all available evidence.

4. Conspiracy theories are not the norm

Try to point out that conspiracy theories are not as common as people think. Reassessing social norms can help satisfy the need to protect the group with which one identifies.

5. Focus on what can be controlled

Encourage them to focus on the future and to put energy into the areas of their lives where they feel more in control.

Although these conversations can be difficult, they are important. With an empathetic, understanding and open approach, you will gain trust. According to research, this is, among other things, an important factor in the prevention of radicalization.