How Stable Are Conspiracy Theory Beliefs?

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When we think about a person who believes one or multiple conspiracy theories, we tend to think of someone with relatively stable and fixed beliefs. In the public imagination, this is one of the things that makes dealing with conspiracy theories so difficult, that they’re seemingly stubborn and can’t be dislodged.

But is that really true? What does the research say about the stability of conspiracy theory beliefs over time?

For one thing, there’s not a ton of research on this question, but there are some clues in the literature. For example, Romer and Jamieson studied conspiracy theory beliefs at two time points across four months with a specific examination of COVID-related conspiracy beliefs. This study found a large correlation between original and post-survey scores, suggesting that conspiracy theory beliefs remained relatively stable. Jolley and colleagues found something similar studying conspiracy beliefs about Brexit across two time points one week apart.

Other studies across more than two time points have similar findings about the strong correlation of conspiracy beliefs over time, including one study about COVID-19 origin conspiracy theories across five time points and another in Poland looking at COVID conspiracy beliefs across four time points. One study that looked at general conspiracy mentality (as opposed to specific conspiracy theory beliefs) across four time points found similarly high correlations.

All of the research on this question, up to this point, has suggested that conspiracy theory beliefs and even conspiracy mentality are relatively stable over time. This is consistent with what we generally know about people— they don’t usually change their minds.

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