Acar K, Horntvedt O, Cabrera A, Olsson A, Ingvar M, Lebedev AV, Petrovic P
Sci Rep 12 (1) 10352 [2022-06-20; online 2022-06-20]
The rapid spread of conspiracy ideas associated with the recent COVID-19 pandemic represents a major threat to the ongoing and coming vaccination programs. Yet, the cognitive factors underlying the pandemic-related conspiracy beliefs are not well described. We hypothesized that such cognitive style is driven by delusion proneness, a trait phenotype associated with formation of delusion-like beliefs that exists on a continuum in the normal population. To probe this hypothesis, we developed a COVID-19 conspiracy questionnaire (CCQ) and assessed 577 subjects online. Their responses clustered into three factors that included Conspiracy, Distrust and Fear/Action as identified using principal component analysis. We then showed that CCQ (in particular the Conspiracy and Distrust factors) related both to general delusion proneness assessed with Peter's Delusion Inventory (PDI) as well as resistance to belief update using a Bias Against Disconfirmatory Evidence (BADE) task. Further, linear regression and pathway analyses suggested a specific contribution of BADE to CCQ not directly explained by PDI. Importantly, the main results remained significant when using a truncated version of the PDI where questions on paranoia were removed (in order to avoid circular evidence), and when adjusting for ADHD- and autistic traits (that are known to be substantially related to delusion proneness). Altogether, our results strongly suggest that pandemic-related conspiracy ideation is associated with delusion proneness trait phenotype.