Researchers link anger and paranoia with 5G Covid-19 conspiracy beliefs

22 Jun 2020

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A study in the UK has suggested a link between 5G Covid-19 conspiracy beliefs and the justification of violence.

Psychologists from Northumbria University in the UK claim to have found a link between between the belief in 5G Covid-19 conspiracy theories and a psychological term called ‘state anger’. Over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, reports have emerged of attacks against 5G base stations in response to unfounded conspiracy theories claiming that the technology was playing a key role in the spread of the pandemic.

While previous research has suggested that conspiracy theories may be linked with violent intentions, there have been no studies about why and when conspiracy beliefs may justify or and ignite violence.

In a relatively small study of 601 UK participants, Northumbria University’s Dr Daniel Jolley and Dr Jenny Paterson assessed subjects for 5G Covid-19 conspiracy theory belief and state anger.

State anger is temporary, short-lasting outbursts of anger and levels of paranoia. Here, paranoia referred to the participants’ belief that there is personal, hostile intent towards them. This is in contrast to the conspiratorial belief that powerful organisations are harming society at large.

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Participants were asked questions about whether they thought violence against 5G base stations was justified in response to the false link between the technology and Covid-19, and how likely they would be to engage in such behaviours.

The results, the psychologists said, showed a belief in 5G Covid-19 conspiracy theories was positively correlated with state anger. In turn, this state anger was associated with a greater justification of violence in response to a supposed connection between 5G and Covid-19.

Those who subscribed to conspiratorial beliefs showed a greater intent to engage in similar violence in the future. These associations were strongest in those who reported higher levels of paranoia.

Jolley and Paterson added that these patterns are not specific to 5G conspiracies. They said that conspiracy theorising was linked to justification and willingness to engage in violent behaviour more generally. This is because such theorising was associated with increased state anger.

“These findings are notable because of their possible practical implications,” Paterson said.

“As conspiracy beliefs can be resistant to change, our research suggests that targeting the link between anger and violence may be an effective initial approach to mitigate the relationships between conspiracy beliefs, anger and violence.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic