New York: Men are more likely than women to endorse coronavirus-related conspiracy theories, say researchers. The study builds upon research from earlier this year that revealed Republicans were more likely than Democrats to believe COVID-19 conspiracies.
But the new research, published in the journal Politics and Gender, shows that gender is more of a factor than party affiliation. According to the researchers, the COVID-19 pandemic is an easy target for conspiracy theories. Most of us are engulfed in worries over health, finances, jobs or our children's education and feel a lack of control.
"During a global pandemic, it's kind of the perfect storm of uncertainty. And so when we feel a lack of control, uncertainty or powerlessness, we seek out explanations for why the event occurred that's causing us to feel that way," said study author Joanne Miller from the University of Delaware in the US.
"It can lead us to connect dots that shouldn't be connected because we're trying to seek out answers. And sometimes those answers are conspiracy theories," Miller added. To find out, the research team ran a survey of 3,000 people using 11 popular conspiracy theories.
It included claims that China or the US accidentally released the virus; that 5G cell towers are causing the virus; that Bill Gates is plotting to somehow inject us with a vaccine; and that scientists are trying to make Donald Trump look bad by exaggerating the seriousness of the pandemic. The researchers found that women were "significantly less likely" to endorse the 11 theories in comparison to men.
According to the study, gender differences were notable. The results were surprising, given that past work has not found a consistent association between gender and conspiracy theory beliefs. "So why men? Two dispositional factors are connected to the gender gap," the research team said.
One is Learned helplessness, which is a feeling like everything's out of your control and any actions that you try to take are basically pointless. Second is conspiratorial thinking, which is a tendency to think about major political events and problems in conspiratorial terms without having any connection to, in this case, COVID-19.
"The resulting general sense of learned helplessness can lead to conspiracy theory beliefs. What we're finding in this research is that men are more likely to score higher on learned helplessness," Miller said. The research team hope to use their findings to affect positive change in public health.