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This content will become publicly available on October 26, 2023

Title: On the relationship between conspiracy theory beliefs, misinformation, and vaccine hesitancy
At the time of writing, nearly one hundred published studies demonstrate that beliefs in COVID-19 conspiracy theories and misinformation are negatively associated with COVID-19 preventive behaviors. These correlational findings are often interpreted as evidence that beliefs in conspiracy theories and misinformation are exogenous factors that shape human behavior, such as forgoing vaccination. This interpretation has motivated researchers to develop methods for “prebunking,” “debunking,” or otherwise limiting the spread of conspiracy theories and misinformation online. However, the robust literatures on conspiracy theory beliefs, health behaviors, and media effects lead us to question whether beliefs in conspiracy theories and misinformation should be treated as exogenous to vaccine hesitancy and refusal. Employing U.S. survey data (n = 2,065) from July 2021, we show that beliefs in COVID-19 conspiracy theories and misinformation are not only related to COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and refusal, but also strongly associated with the same psychological, social, and political motivations theorized to drive COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and refusal. These findings suggest that beliefs in conspiracy theories and misinformation might not always be an exogenous cause, but rather a manifestation of the same factors that lead to vaccine hesitancy and refusal. We conclude by encouraging researchers to carefully consider modeling choices more » and imploring practitioners to refocus on the worldviews, personality traits, and political orientations that underlie both health-related behaviors and beliefs in conspiracy theories and misinformation. « less
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Jonason, Peter Karl
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National Science Foundation
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