Compliance, Conspiracy Beliefs, and Contrarian Movements: Psychological Responses to the Coronavirus Pandemic

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Title: Compliance, Conspiracy Beliefs, and Contrarian Movements: Psychological Responses to the Coronavirus Pandemic
Authors: Liekefett, Luisa
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Thesis advisor: Prof. Dr. Julia C. Becker
Thesis referee: Prof. Dr. Silja Vocks
Abstract: The Coronavirus pandemic will go down in history as a time when daily life around the globe was turned upside-down in an unprecedented way. Many people quickly adapted to the new status quo and complied with the governmental restrictions aimed at mitigating the spread of the virus. However, opposition against the protective measures also formed, and was accompanied, at least in part, by the spread of conspiracy theories and misinformation. This dissertation seeks to investigate these psychological responses to the Coronavirus pandemic. The first part explores the psychological processes that shape compliance with vs. opposition to the governmental protective measures. The second part investigates the causes and consequences of conspiracy beliefs in the context of the pandemic before generalizing the subject to societal crises more broadly. Manuscript 1 argues that people complied with protective measures to protect themselves, out of solidarity with members of risk groups, or for both of these reasons. Results of two studies revealed that these motives were predicted by different psychological variables: Whereas self-protection was predicted by perceptions of uncertainty and threat, compliance out of solidarity was associated with the perception of a shared group identity, collective efficacy, and concern for vulnerable groups. This implies that psychological responses to the pandemic are influenced by intergroup dynamics, and that compliance can be facilitated by both self- and solidarity-related processes. Manuscript 2 explores the characteristics of people that opposed the protective measures in the form of anti-lockdown protests. Using a large sample of such contrarian protestors, we examined similarities and differences in their belief systems. Results revealed four subgroups that differed mainly in socio-political ideology, but shared surprisingly similar anti-science convictions: unfounded conspiracy beliefs, downplaying of the dangers of the Coronavirus, esotericism, and vaccine hesitancy. These anti-science beliefs have helped unite contrarians with diverse socio-political views in a single, obtrusive anti-lockdown movement. Manuscripts 3 and 4 investigate how conspiracy beliefs influence and are influenced by negative cognitive-affective experiences that are common during crises. More specifically, Manuscript 3 examines longitudinal linkages between conspiracy beliefs, anxiety, uncertainty aversion, and existential threat. Results from two studies conducted during the pandemic show that conspiracy beliefs most likely do not have beneficial consequences regarding these variables for the individuals that hold them. Instead, they may even reinforce negative fear- and uncertainty-related states under some circumstances. Manuscript 4 directly targets conspiracy beliefs as potential explanations for societal problems (e.g., polarization). Results of a comprehensive Registered Report show that brooding, a dysfunctional form of repetitive negative thinking, contributes to the formation of conspiracy beliefs: In a repeated-measures experiment, difference scores in conspiracy beliefs were greater among participants who brooded over societal problems than among those in a control group - suggesting that brooding enables or causes conspiracy beliefs. In sum, the present research illustrates the reciprocal relations between negative cognitive-affective experiences that are common during crises, socio-political beliefs, and behaviors that facilitate or impede a successful overcoming of crises like the pandemic. The manuscripts that comprise this dissertation have implications for (a) theories on the formation of conspiracy beliefs and collective behavior, (b) interventions aimed at facilitating evidence-based behavior changes in response to societal crises, and (c) political communication and media coverage during such crises.
Subject Keywords: Coronavirus pandemic; Compliance; Conspiracy beliefs; Contrarian movements
Issue Date: 13-Mar-2024
License name: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International
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Type of publication: Dissertation oder Habilitation [doctoralThesis]
Appears in Collections:FB08 - E-Dissertationen

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