The Antidepressant Hoax: Mere Exposure to Conspiracy Theories Decrease Intention to Seek Medical Help

Marques, M. D. (La Trobe University), Natoli, E. E. (La Trobe University)

Increasing attention to research on conspiracy theories has progressed understanding of the epistemic, existential, and social motives underlying these beliefs. Yet there is little evidence on the consequences of conspiracy beliefs, primarily due to the limitations of correlational studies. Using an experimental design, we investigated how exposure to conspiracy beliefs about antidepressants and the health system affected intention to seek medical help. Participants (N = 303) were randomly allocated to read one of three news stories used to manipulate conspiracies (pro-conspiracy, anti-conspiracy, control), then reported conspiracy beliefs, trust in health professionals and self-beliefs about powerlessness, and finally intentions to seek medical help. Multiple mediation analysis suggested that exposure to conspiracy theories (versus anti-conspiracy, when controlling for pro-conspiracy versus control) lessened intention to seek medical help indirectly through a decrease in trust in groups relied on to tell the truth about the health industry (B=.031 , SE=.016 , CI95= .008-.075), but not through powerlessness. Findings suggest that mere exposure to health conspiracies not only alter beliefs about health conspiracies, but decrease intention to engage with services in the health industry by eroding trust in relevant persons and groups.

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(Mis)information and Motivated Reasoning Symposium