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Unfounded beliefs strengthen the feeling of powerlessness and distress

Unfounded beliefs strengthen the feeling of powerlessness and distress

22. 4. 2024 | 169 visits

The COVID-19 pandemic has radically affected numerous areas of life. Scientists of the Slovak Academy of Sciences started to investigate its various effects on society immediately after its outbreak. From a psychological point of view, the influence of the pandemic on the survival and well-being of people is unforgettable. The pandemic evoked feelings of threat and uncertainty and also led to a higher tendency for some people to believe various unfounded beliefs - conspiratorial or pseudo-scientific.

The latest research of the Institute of Experimental Psychology of Centre of Social and Psychological Sciences SAS points out that this relationship is reciprocal, and thus even unfounded beliefs lead to stronger feelings of powerlessness and distress. Previous research has only partially addressed this issue and there are no findings based on long-term measurement. "Research so far indicates that, on the one hand, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused people to feel threatened and insecure, which has led them to succumb to various unfounded, often conspiratorial beliefs. On the other hand, it turned out that the presence of such unfounded beliefs intensified the aforementioned feelings of threat and uncertainty," explains Eva Ballová Mikušková of the Institute of Experimental Psychology of Centre of Social and Psychological Sciences SAS.

Based on these findings, scientists of the Institute of Experimental Psychology of Centre of Social and Psychological Sciences SAS conducted longitudinal research in three data collection waves between October 2021 and April 2023 and found that the relationship between unfounded beliefs and well-being is indeed bidirectional, with unfounded beliefs having a stronger effect on well-being than vice versa.

"Specifically, people who were more prone to conspiracy beliefs (for example, that COVID-19 was planned for a long time to weaken the economy and thereby cause unemployment) and pseudoscientific beliefs (for example, that COVID-19 can be treated with the right combination of vitamins) showed stronger feelings of powerlessness (even higher distress when subject to pseudoscientific beliefs). And although distress and powerlessness had an effect on the above-mentioned beliefs, this effect was weaker in its strength," explains Peter Teličák of the Institute of Experimental Psychology of Centre of Social and Psychological Sciences SAS.

The results suggest that there is indeed a cyclical correlation between unfounded beliefs and well-being, with conspiratorial and pseudoscientific beliefs holding a stronger position and being related to our well-being. For this reason, the researchers recommend that future intervention programs focus on working with unfounded beliefs, such as strengthening critical and scientific reasoning, which appear to be protective against trusting unfounded beliefs that have a negative impact on well-being.

The research was supported by the APVV-20-0387 project Psychological Context of Unfounded Information and Beliefs Related to the COVID-19 Pandemic and was published as an online-first in the journal Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being.

Link to the study