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Faculty & Research


A Moth to a Flame? Fulfilling Connectedness Needs Through Romantic Relationships Protects Conspiracy Theorists Against COVID-19 Misinformation

Journal Article
Conspiracy theorists’ unpopular opinions likely make them more apprehensive about interactions with others, frustrating their need to belong. Therefore, they may be susceptible to believing misinformation because evidence that others share their beliefs provides “social proof” that they can expect interactions with others to be positive and rewarding. The present research examined whether alternatively fulfilling the need for social connection through romantic relationships could protect conspiracy theorists against COVID-19 misinformation. In a 3-week daily diary study (N = 555), experimental participants implicitly learned to associate their romantic partners with positive experiences (by repeatedly pairing their partner with highly positive and approachable stimuli, McNulty et al., 2017). The authors then assessed how much participants trusted individuals they might normally distrust, as a manipulation check, and how much participants tuned their daily personal beliefs and behavior to match the U.S. public's daily susceptibility to COVID-19 misinformation. Participants high on conspiratorial thinking trusted fellow community members more in the experimental than control condition. Participants high on conspiratorial thinking in the experimental condition were also less likely to treat the U.S. public's greater daily susceptibility to COVID-19 misinformation as proof that they could discount the virus. The present findings suggest that rewarding romantic connections might be leveraged to limit conspiracy theorists’ susceptibility to believing public skepticism about COVID-19.

Associate Professor of Marketing