People with a poor understanding of quantitative information are more likely to support myths about COVID-19 and those who believe misinformation are less likely to follow public health guidelines such as wearing masks in public, according to new research. The study appears in the journal Royal Society Open Science.
“Misinformation has been one of the main focal points of our research since early 2018. Misinformation about COVID-19 is fast becoming a significant problem, with WHO declaring it ‘infodemic’ and people burning cell phone poles due to conspiracy around 5G networks. , “said Jon Roozenbeek and Sander van der Linden, two co-authors of the study affiliated with Social Decision Making Lab at Cambridge University.
“We are interested in finding out what predicts belief in misinformation about the virus, and whether that belief in misinformation impacts key health behaviors.”
Researchers surveyed 5,000 people from the UK, Ireland, United States, Spain and Mexico between mid-April and early May 2020 regarding popular myths about COVID-19. The survey also collected some demographic information, assessed the extent to which participants had adhered to public health guidelines, and included three different numeracy tests.
Most of the participants viewed the COVID-19 myth as unreliable, but the researchers found that conspiracy theories regarding the coronavirus were entrenched in large parts of the population.
The conspiracy that is considered the most valid is the claim that COVID-19 was engineered in a laboratory in Wuhan, China. Between 22-23% of respondents in the UK and US rated this statement as “reliable”. In Ireland this figure rose to 26%, while in Mexico and Spain it jumped to 33% and 37%.
This was followed by the idea that the pandemic was “part of a plot to enforce global vaccination,” with 22% of the Mexican population judging this to be reliable, along with 18% in Ireland, Spain and the US, and 13% in the UK.
The conspiracy theory that 5G telecom towers are exacerbating COVID-19 symptoms affects a smaller but still significant segment: 16% in Mexico, 16% in Spain, 12% in Ireland, and 8% in the UK and US.
“Although conspiracy theories and misinformation about COVID-19 are not supported by the majority of people in any of the countries we surveyed, a large number of people find conspiracies such as the idea that 5G radiation causes symptoms of the Corona virus or that the virus was created in a laboratory. in Wuhan is reliable, “said Roozenbeek and van der Linden PsyPost.
“We also found that trusting such misinformation was associated with a reduced self-reported willingness to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and a lower willingness to demonstrate adherence to general health guideline measures such as wearing masks or social distancing.”
The researchers identified several factors associated with susceptibility to COVID-19 misinformation.
Political conservatism is associated with a slightly higher vulnerability to misinformation in every country except in the US and in the UK. Being older was associated with a lower susceptibility to misinformation in every country except Mexico. Self-identification as a member of a minority is associated with increased vulnerability to misinformation in every country except the UK. Higher trust in scientists was associated with lower trust in misinformation in all countries.
However, the most consistent predictor of susceptibility to COVID-19 misinformation is performance on numeracy tests. The test “not only measures math ability” but assesses “an individual’s ability to understand and use quantitative information more broadly,” note the researchers.
“Our findings are consistent with the large literature finding that reflective and analytical thinking is consistently associated with reduced susceptibility to misinformation,” they added.
For example, one test asked: “Out of 1,000 people in a small town 500 are members of a choir. Of the 500 members of this choir 100 are male. Of the 500 residents who did not join the choir, 300 were male. What is the probability that a randomly drawn man becomes a member of the choir? Show probability in percent. “
Another test item asks: “What represents the highest chance for something to happen: 1 in 10, 1 in 1000, or 1 in 100?”
But research – like all research – includes several limitations.
“It would be great if we could replicate this research in other countries, because there are several hypotheses we still want to test. In addition, we cannot control for other factors that may be important in shaping people’s beliefs about misinformation such as previous attitudes and religiosity, ”Roozenbeek and van der Linden told PsyPost.
Researchers have also created short online games intended to help “inoculate” players against fake news.
“Incidentally, in the same week this study came out, we released it Viral, a 5-minute online game that trains people to recognize manipulation techniques commonly used in the spread of COVID-19 misinformation such as fear and using fake experts, ”explained Roozenbeek and van der Linden.
“Games produced in collaboration with the British government with support from WHO and the United Nations can be played www.goviralgame.com in English, French and German. We hope that this game will contribute to reducing the spread of misinformation about viruses. “
Learning, “Vulnerability to misinformation about COVID-19 around the world“, Written by Jon Roozenbeek, Claudia R. Schneider, Sarah Dryhurst, John Kerr, Alexandra LJ Freeman, Gabriel Recchia, Anne Marthe van der Bles and Sander van der Linden.
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