Sternisko, A., Cichocka, A., Cislak, A.,
& Van Bavel, J. J. (2020, May 21).
While COVID-19 was quietly spreading across the globe, conspiracy theories were finding loud voices on the internet. What contributes to the spread of these theories? In two national surveys (NTotal = 950) conducted in the United States and the United Kingdom, we identified national narcissism – a belief in the greatness of one’s nation that others do not appreciate – as a risk factor for the spread of conspiracy theories during the COVID-19 pandemic. We found that national narcissism was strongly associated with the proneness to believe and disseminate conspiracy theories related to COVID-19, accounting for up to 22% of the variance. Further, we found preliminary evidence that belief in COVID-19 conspiracy theories and national narcissism was linked to health-related behaviors and attitudes towards public policies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Our study expands previous work by illustrating the importance of identity processes in the spread of conspiracy theories during pandemics.
Ultimately, we hope that our studies are not only relevant for researchers but also for practitioners.Yet, little is known about how to increase or decrease the link between collective narcissism and conspiracy theories. Therefore, we urge future research to examine if focusing on the protection of the national image influences the spread of COVID-19 conspiracy theories, and the implications of these associations for public-health communication. For instance, underscoring that the national in-group is in some way disadvantaged in fighting the pandemic might increase the need to assert the image of the group and further fuel conspiracy theories. Conversely, public-health messages might benefit from stressing that the adherence to health guidelines and policies also helps protect the nation’s image. Exploring such and other interventions could help limit the current ‘infodemic'.