Not least due to the COVID-19 pandemic, conspiracy theories are extra topical than ever. They’re reported and mentioned in virtually all media and communication channels. However what affect have they got on our habits? Scientists led by behavioral economist Loukas Balafoutas investigated this query in a lately revealed examine. The consequence: We don’t have to imagine in conspiracy theories for them to have an effect on us. Merely being confronted with them suffices.
Earlier research have proven that beliefs in conspiracy theories have an affect on the habits of their adherents. For instance, they result in decrease voter turnout or a decrease willingness to get vaccinated.
For years now, conspiracy theories have been experiencing an actual increase — it’s virtually not possible to disregard them. This has prompted a analysis crew led by Loukas Balafoutas to conduct a laboratory experiment to research whether or not conspiracy theories additionally have an effect on us when we don’t imagine in them and are solely briefly confronted with them.
“Our examine reveals that topics who have been uncovered to a conspiracy principle for simply three minutes acted in a different way in a subsequent behavioral experiment than topics from the management group,” studies Loukas Balafoutas, Professor of Experimental Economics on the Division of Finance on the College of Innsbruck. The researchers have been lately capable of publish these ends in the journal Financial and Political Research.
Conspiracy theories change habits
Within the so-called EconLab of the College of Innsbruck, the researchers carried out their experiment earlier than the COVID-19 pandemic. Half of the 144 individuals within the examine have been proven a 3-minute video depicting the 1969 moon touchdown as a pretend. The management group, then again, watched an equally lengthy video in regards to the house shuttle program. Subsequently, the take a look at individuals participated within the so-called “cash request recreation.” The gamers have been divided into pairs and requested to make a simultaneous integer bid between 5 and 14 euros. Whoever made the smaller bid acquired the quantity of that bid plus 10 euros; whoever made the bigger bid acquired solely the quantity of the bid. Within the occasion of a tie, each individuals acquired precisely their bid. On this recreation, one of the best response to a bid bigger than 5 euros from the opposite participant is to bid precisely one euro much less. If the opposite participant bids 5 euros, one of the best response is to bid 14 euros.
“On this experiment, we discovered that topics who had beforehand watched the conspiracy principle video bid smaller quantities. This reveals that these take a look at individuals act extra strategically. On the one hand, this may presumably result in a better revenue within the recreation, however on the similar time this method additionally carries the danger of incurring a loss,” explains Balafoutas. “So our intention right here is to not consider this habits as higher or worse, however merely to point out that individuals who have been uncovered to a conspiracy principle shortly beforehand show totally different habits than the management group in a subsequent state of affairs that’s utterly totally different when it comes to content material. From this we conclude that the conspiracy principle has an affect on how somebody perceives the world and different individuals,” Balafoutas continues.
In one other experiment, the so-called “belief recreation,” the researchers examined the extent to which publicity to a conspiracy principle results in an impairment of belief towards others. On this recreation, gamers have been divided into pairs. In every pair, each gamers acquired 5 euros. One of many gamers (A) may determine to take a position half or all the quantity. The invested quantity was tripled and given to the opposite participant (B), who may then switch a part of the cash again to participant A — however didn’t need to. Bigger quantities invested by A on this recreation correspond to a better stage of belief. “It’s fairly a optimistic message that we didn’t discover any unfavourable affect of the conspiracy principle right here. Belief within the different particular person was statistically the identical in each teams. That’s essential, as a result of in our society we want a sure stage of belief for it to perform in any respect,” Balafoutas says.
That the scientists studied conspiracy theories within the lab isn’t any coincidence. “As researchers, we don’t need to contribute to spreading conspiracy theories into society. Subsequently, warning is at all times required in such research. They should be carried out in an ethically justifiable method and should even be permitted prematurely. It’s notably essential to debrief the take a look at topics after such an experiment,” explains Loukas Balafoutas.
Reference: “Publicity to conspiracy theories within the lab” by Loukas Balafoutas, Alexander Libman, Vasileios Selamis and Björn Vollan, 11 February 2021, Financial and Poilitical Research.