Dealing with conspiracy theories by presenting counterarguments is often an ineffective strategy. However, a new scientific review suggests alternative methods that could effectively combat conspiratorial beliefs.
Interest in conspiracy theories has been on the rise over the past decade, with a significant surge during the COVID-19 pandemic. These beliefs can be challenging to address, and traditional approaches of refuting them often prove fruitless.
The review, led by Cian O’Mahony, a psychology doctoral candidate at University College Cork in Ireland, focused on methods to counteract conspiracy theories. While it didn’t discover a one-size-fits-all solution, it did uncover some promising avenues for future research.
The most encouraging approach involves training people to critically analyze information, helping them distinguish pseudoscience from legitimate facts. Even simple techniques, like presenting text in a hard-to-read font, can make individuals more vigilant and less likely to fall for conspiracy theories.
Another strategy is “information inoculation,” where counterarguments against conspiracy theories are presented alongside a warning that misinformation will follow. This method is likened to a vaccine, as it prepares individuals to resist conspiracy theories when exposed to them.
However, replicating successful interventions and scaling them up into policies remains a challenge. It’s also unclear whether these interventions have a lasting impact.
Valerie van Mulukom, a researcher at Coventry University in the UK, emphasizes that combating conspiracy beliefs is a complex social process influenced by various factors, including personality traits, paranoia, financial insecurity, and social marginalization.
As a follow-up to the review, O’Mahony and his colleagues are developing a video game aimed at enhancing critical thinking skills, as such games have shown promise in combatting fake news. This approach offers a potentially innovative way to teach individuals how to apply critical thinking to conspiracy theories.