Testing the Influence of Self-Generated Persuasion on Conspiratorial Thinking Among New Zealand Adults
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Conspiracy theories are persuasive and influential. Given the risks associated with belief in unwarranted conspiracy theories, research has started to examine various interventions to prevent or correct conspiracy adherence. This research study extends previous literature focused on attenuating conspiracy adherence by testing a novel intervention tool of self-persuasion to attenuate conspiracy mentality. More specifically, this research examined if self-persuasion via an argument-generation task would effectively influence general conspiracy mentality and conspiratorial suspicions about COVID-19. In a mixed study design, 452 participants from New Zealand were recruited online via convenience sampling and randomly assigned into one of four experimental conditions. Participants were asked to generate arguments that were: pro-conspiracy, anti-conspiracy, pro-greenery, or anti-greenery. Contrary to all hypotheses, findings showed that engagement in a self-persuasion task did not effectively influence conspiracy mentality or conspiratorial suspicion about COVID-19. Interestingly, conspiracy mentality scores across all conditions significantly decreased after a delayed period. Additionally, after generating pro-conspiracy arguments, significantly more participants chose not to receive information about COVID-19 conspiracies. Furthermore, after controlling for participants’ intolerance of uncertainty or topic importance, there were no significant differences in conspiracy mentality scores or COVID-19 conspiracy suspicion scores across the experimental conditions. Despite the prior success of self-persuasion interventions, the present study findings do not support self-persuasion for attenuating conspiracy adherence. Possible explanations and study limitations are considered. The methodological and theoretical suggestions for future research to attenuate conspiracy thinking are discussed.