Background: An invisible threat has visibly altered the world. Governments and key institutions have had to implement decisive responses to the danger posed by the coronavirus pandemic. Imposed change will increase the likelihood that alternative explanations take hold. In a proportion of the general population there may be strong scepticism, fear of being misled, and false conspiracy theories. Our objectives were to estimate the prevalence of conspiracy thinking about the pandemic and test associations with reduced adherence to government guidelines.
Methods: A non-probability online survey with 2501 adults in England, quota sampled to match the population for age, gender, income, and region.
Results: Approximately 50% of this population showed little evidence of conspiracy thinking, 25% showed a degree of endorsement, 15% showed a consistent pattern of endorsement, and 10% had very high levels of endorsement. Higher levels of coronavirus conspiracy thinking were associated with less adherence to all government guidelines and less willingness to take diagnostic or antibody tests or to be vaccinated. Such ideas were also associated with paranoia, general vaccination conspiracy beliefs, climate change conspiracy belief, a conspiracy mentality, and distrust in institutions and professions. Holding coronavirus conspiracy beliefs was also associated with being more likely to share opinions.
Conclusions: In England there is appreciable endorsement of conspiracy beliefs about coronavirus. Such ideas do not appear confined to the fringes. The conspiracy beliefs connect to other forms of mistrust and are associated with less compliance with government guidelines and greater unwillingness to take up future tests and treatment.
Keywords: conspiracy beliefs; mistrust; paranoia; public health; vaccination hesitancy.
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