DataSheet1_A Pandemic of Misbelief: How Beliefs Promote or Undermine COVID-19 Mitigation.PDF
Sustained and coordinated social action is needed to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Health practitioners and governments around the world have issued recommendations and mandates designed to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 by influencing the social behaviors of the general public. Why and when are some people unwilling to take action to protect themselves and others from the effects of this public health crisis? We find that belief in COVID-19 consensus information (by the self or perceptions of scientists’ beliefs), are consequential predictors of COVID-19 mitigation behaviors. Importantly, support for COVID-19 conspiracy theories predicted decreased, whereas perceived understanding of COVID-19 predicted increased, belief in COVID-19 consensus information. We also implemented an Illusion of Explanatory depth paradigm, an approach to examining knowledge overestimation shown to reduce confidence in one’s understanding of complex phenomena. By requiring participants to elaborate upon COVID-19 conspiracies, we experimentally increased understanding of these theories, which led, in turn, to ironic increases in support for the conspiracy theories and undermined perceived understanding of COVID-19 information for a notable portion of our participants. Together, our results suggest that attention given to COVID-19 conspiracies may be misguided; describing or explaining the existence of COVID-19 conspiracies may ironically increase support for these accounts and undermine knowledge about and willingness to engage in COVID-19 mitigation.