Changing Conspiracy Beliefs through Rationality and Ridiculing


Despite the extensive knowledge about the harmful effects of having CT beliefs, the reduction of CT beliefs with experimental methods is a relatively neglected topic of scientific investigation. In the present study, three convincing strategies were tested in order to reduce CT beliefs: rational arguments, ridiculing of CT believers, and expressing empathy toward the objects of CT beliefs. Providing rational arguments was found as being an effective strategy, along with providing ridiculing arguments, which could also reduce CT beliefs. Only very weak, or even non-significant links were found between conspiracy theory-related variables and individual differences. Considering these results and previous studies focusing on the benevolent effects of analytic thinking in CT belief reduction, it can be assumed that uncovering arguments regarding the logical inconsistencies of CT beliefs can be an effective way to discredit them. Our findings on the efficiency of rational argumentation go against the mainstream of the communication literature and “common wisdom,” as well as the current affective wave of social psychology emphasizing that emotions constitute the most important factor behind shaping beliefs and attitudes. Considering the modest effect sizes, we assume that rationality has a bigger impact on shaping (sometimes irrational) beliefs than previously expected, given that in the current communication environment, people are overloaded with emotional messages coming from ads, political and social campaigns. Future studies should also investigate the role of rationality and the “rationality heuristic” in belief change.

Read the complete study (Orosz G, Krekó P, Paskuj B, Tóth-Király I, Bõthe B and Roland-Lévy C (2016) Changing Conspiracy Beliefs through Rationality and Ridiculing. Front. Psychol. 7:1525. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01525) on the website of Frontiers in Psychology.