Coronavirus Mini-Series #9 – Conspiracy Theories (Prof Jim McManus & Dr Daniel Jolley)

December 2020

Professor Jim McManus – Director of Public Health at Hertfordshire County Council and VP of the Association of Directors of Public Health. He is a Chartered Psychologist, British Psychological Society Fellow & Co-Founder and Chair of the Behavioural Science and Public Health Network.

Dr Daniel Jolley – Snr Lecturer in Psychology at Northumbria University, Chartered Psychologist of the British Psychological Society & member of the Executive Committee of the Social Psychology Section. Daniel is a social psychologist with expertise in the psychology of conspiracy theories.

In this coronavirus special, Stu talks with Jim and Dan about conspiracy theories – including what separates conspiratorial thinking from more simple questioning, and how as conspiracies become more familiar to us, they can also become more believable.

They explore the history of conspiracies, how they are nothing new and often accompany significant cultural or political change. In doing so, Dan demonstrates how beliefs in conspiracies are linked with higher anxiety and feelings of threat.

The group then go on to examine and tackle some conspiracies relating to COVID-19 and the vaccine:

  • 5G and worsening COVID-19 symptoms
  • Vaccines and side effects
  • How could it have been developed so quickly?
  • If it works why can't we stop social distancing?
  • Vaccine contains nanoparticles
  • Vaccine is being used for tracking
  • We don’t know what’s in it

The group also discuss how to bring people away from conspiracies, and how this starts with building back trust; having a genuine dialogue with compassion and establishing common ground.

Additional resources:

  • Go Viral! – game developed by University of Cambridge & UK Government. It gives a taste of the techniques and motivations behind the spread of coronavirus misinformation
  • NHS Why Vaccinations Are Important – how vaccines work, what they contain and the most common side effects