Conspiracy theories as an unhelpful strategy against loss of control during the COVID 19 pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic turns out to be a global, insecure situation. Many people do not know how things will continue in their lives, jobs, families and their health.

People nowadays have to come to terms with their plans not following through from one day to the next. This of course is very unsettling and can cause anxiety. Anxiety is difficult to bear; it paralyzes and makes you feel helpless. Therefore, the human brain looks for ways to get out of this uncomfortable feeling. This is where the conspiracy myths begin and fulfill a very specific function for these people. They provide support and security, explain complex issues simply and name the guilty party. A close relative of mine is sure that the coronavirus was engineered in a lab in China and brought to Europe by China, as a biological weapon. And he is not alone. Many elected leaders have been similarly mistaken.

3 out of 10 Austrians are convinced that conspiracy theories are more legitimate than official governmental bodies would like to admit. With a little more than 58 percent, most Austrians on Facebook have already come into contact with such conspiracy theories, followed by YouTube (46.7 percent). But 45 percent were confronted by friends and acquaintances with absurd theories. And almost 22 percent agreed to the statement that the coronavirus was developed and released as a biological weapon.

How should one react to people who believe in conspiracy myths?

With strong emotions involved, one will soon find out that arguing with evidence-based facts will unfortunately not bring a win. From a neurological point of view, facts will always lose against emotions. Our brain processes feelings much more strongly than factual information. Therefore, Corona conspiracy myths have one thing in common: they divide the good and the bad and clearly define the guilty party for the spread of the virus or the conditions that have risen due to the pandemic. It structures, gives an overview and the person finds allies hence people don’t feel lonely anymore. Since conspiracy theories satisfy the longing for explanations, one would gain control through them and as a result feel much better.

But what does that mean when dealing with people who firmly believe in conspiracy theories? Should we seek dialogue in our dealings, or should we clearly delimit ourselves? My recommendation is, be pragmatic namely that, tolerance is required, but on the other hand draw a red line somewhere, especially between wrong and completely absurd, because some statements are not acceptable opinions, just dangerous errors. If someone has finally lost touch with the truth, has thrown all logic overboard and spreads lies that no longer provide a basis for reasonable discussion, then one has to criticize that in sharp words. This may sound impolite, but real nonsense has to be called real nonsense.

Dr.a Doris Malischnig
Dr.a Doris Malischnig is a trained clinical and health psychologist, organizational psychologist, as well as a hypnotherapist, addiction counselor and coach.