More than 1 in 3 Americans believe that the Chinese government engineered the coronavirus as a weapon, and another third are convinced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has exaggerated the threat of Covid-19 to undermine President Trump.
The numbers, from a survey released on Sept. 21 by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, may or may not taper off as communities begin to contain the virus.
But they underscore a moment when a particular brand of conspiracy theory is emerging in the mainstream: A belief that the “official story” is in fact a Big Lie, being told by powerful, shadowy interests.
At its extremes, these theories include cannibals and satanic pedophiles, (courtesy of the so-called QAnon theory, circulating online); lizard-people, disguised as corporate leaders and celebrities (rooted in alien abduction stories and science fiction); and, in this year of the plague, evil scientists and governments, all conspiring to use Covid-19 for their own dark purposes.
Estimates of how many Americans firmly believe at least one discredited conspiracy theory hover around 50 percent, but that may be low. (To paraphrase a popular bumper sticker: If you don’t think someone is plotting against you, you’re not paying attention.) Still, psychologists do not have a good handle on the types of people who are prone to buy into Big Lie theories, especially the horror-film versions.
In the most comprehensive analysis to date of people who are prone to conspiracy beliefs, a research team in Atlanta sketched out several personality profiles that appear to be distinct. One is familiar: the injustice collector, impulsive and overconfident, who is eager to expose naïveté in everyone but him- or herself. Another is less so: a more solitary, anxious figure, moody and detached, perhaps including many who are older and living alone. The analysis also found, at the extremes, an element of real pathology — of a “personality disorder,” in the jargon of psychiatry.
“With all changes happening in politics, the polarization and lack of respect, conspiracy theories are playing a bigger role in people’s thinking and behavior possibly than ever,” said Shauna Bowes, a research psychologist at Emory University who led the study team. “And there was no consensus on the psychological bases of conspiracy beliefs. In this work, we tried to address that.”
Read the whole story: The New York TimesMore of our Members in the Media >