Medical Technology

Believers in COVID-19 Conspiracies More Likely to Catch Virus

Editor’s note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Center.

People who believe in COVID-19 conspiracy theories are more likely to catch the virus, lose their jobs, and be socially isolated, according to a new study published in Psychological Medicine, a peer-reviewed medical journal by Cambridge University Press.

The study, conducted by researchers in the Netherlands, found that those who believe in COVID-19 conspiracies are less likely to be tested for COVID-19. But they’re more likely to get infected and test positive.

“One basic property of conspiracy theories is that they are consequential: Even if a conspiracy theory is extremely implausible according to logic or scientific evidence, if it seems real to a perceiver, it has a genuine impact on attitudes, emotions, and behavior,” the study authors wrote.

The research team surveyed 5,745 people to provide a large sample of observations from a cross-section of Dutch residents. They contacted people in April 2020 and December 2020 to examine whether conspiracy beliefs early in the pandemic would predict health and well-being outcomes later in the year.

The researchers asked about four COVID-19 conspiracy beliefs, including whether the coronavirus is a “bioweapon engineered by scientists,” whether the coronavirus is a “conspiracy to take away citizens’ rights for good and establish an authoritarian government,” whether the coronavirus is a “hoax invented by interest groups for financial gains,” and whether the coronavirus was “created as a cover-up for the impending global economic crash.”

They found that conspiracy beliefs predicted an increased likelihood of violating coronavirus regulations, experiencing social rejection, having economic problems such as job loss or reduced income, and having lower overall well-being. Most of the effects generalized to a broader susceptibility to conspiracy theories or a conspiracy mentality overall.

The research team also found that conspiracy beliefs predicted an increased chance of disrupted social relationships. People who scored “low” in conspiracy beliefs were more likely to reject people who scored “high” in conspiracy beliefs. Publicly endorsing conspiracy beliefs can lead to stigmas and reduce people’s social support network, the authors wrote.

“These findings suggest that conspiracy beliefs are associated with a myriad of negative life outcomes in the long run,” the study authors wrote.

“Conspiracy beliefs predict how well people cope with the challenges of a global pandemic and therefore has substantial implications for private and public health, as well as perceivers’ economic and social well-being,” they concluded.


Psychological Medicine: “Conspiracy beliefs prospectively predict health behavior and well-being during a pandemic.”

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