Hello and welcome to the Big Five podcast from Northumbria psychology pardon. My name is Dr. Genavee Brown and I'll be your guidance for minds of psychology students, alumni, and researchers at Northumbria University. I'm a lecturer and social psychology researcher in the Department here and each week on this podcast, I'll speak to a guest who is either a student, alumni or researcher in the Northumbria psychology department. By asking them five big questions, we'll learn about their time studying psychology, and hopefully learn some big facts about human behaviour and experience. Today, I have the pleasure of speaking to animal Anna, would you like to tell us a bit about your research area and how you got interested in it? And what are some theories behind?
Yes, absolutely. Thank you so much Genavee, for having me today. And I suppose the main kind of theory behind my research is that our emotions play a role in how we perceive and believe in medical conspiracy theories. So my work is also social psychology. And the men, like I said, theory driving my research is I'm interested in looking at how key emotions really influence our belief in medical conspiracy theories. So a medical conspiracy theory, a well known example would be some COVID-19 conspiracy theories. I'm sure that is something that we've all heard things about the virus being a hawks, 5g towers, causing the virus and that it's a biological weapon. So those are just a few kinds of really well known ones. But they're actually not the only medical related conspiracy theories that are floating around. There's a lot of conspiracy theories surrounding what's called Big Pharma. So the big pharmaceutical companies and the big pharmaceutical industry vaccines is wild. Oh, absolutely. There's public water fluoridation, Genet genetically modified crops, HIV and AIDS conspiracy theories. So So essentially, today, most of the research has just focused on COVID-19. And the rest of the conspiracy theories are kind of sorry, in a medical sense, haven't really been investigated that much. So we don't actually know as much as what we would like to at this point. And so that's where my PhD comes in. So I'm in my second year of my PhD, and the tight work and title of my thesis is the impact of emotions and belief, medical conspiracy theories, and how they impact our health behaviours. Yeah. That's, that's my that's my research in a nutshell. Hopefully, that all makes sense.
Yeah, no, that's very fascinating. I didn't think about all those medical conspiracy theories, but there are many. So you said that you study these conspiracy theories and the emotions that are attached to them? What are some of the methods that you use to study those?
So the methods that I use are what's known as quantitative methods. So these involve things like surveys, and experiments, and to date, they have all been online. So so far, I have conducted two studies, and they have been large scale surveys where I've broadly explored the relationship between medical conspiracy beliefs, two distinct emotions and the distinct emotions that I am interested in anxiety and under, and how these work together to predict health behaviours. So the health behaviours that I look at, I actually developed a scale myself, which explores kind of four main areas of health. So it looks at how belief in conspiracy theories impacts a person's intention to attend appointments. And that may vary from an event to a GP appointment to cancer screening and appointment, information seeking. So how belief in conspiracy theories and emotions impact people's health information seeking so whether they search things, you know, online, the NHS website or from charitable organisations who are verified health information or not how likely they are to accept mainstream medicine. Things like a vaccine or COVID Booster, or if they would rather use herbal remedies to treat any ailments, and finally, people's intentions to donate organs, to destiny. So these are all sort of areas that I explore using questionnaires and going forward and the next kind of phase of my PhD is to use some online experiments to kind of really delve into the cause and if Fact of exposure to a conspiracy theory and how that then impacts your health intentions. And again, we then come and incorporate emotions into this as a as a, you know, contributing factor.
So is the idea that people see conspiracy theories online? And that kind of provokes these emotions, which then influence the behaviours. Yeah,
so, that is one one of the viewpoints However, my main kind of hypothesis is that emotions drive those beliefs. So, we do have evidence that conspiracy theories elicit a negative emotion. But my research actually focuses more on what we call trait emotions. So, trait emotions refer to how predisposed you are to feeling a certain way. So, people who are high and sanitary anxiety are more likely to respond in an anxious way to a certain situation. And a state emotion is that situation and emotion. So, my hypothesis is that people who are high in trait anxiety and trade anger, this strengthens the relationship between conspiracy theories and health behaviours. Okay. So, my sort of overall hypothesis is that trait anxiety drives this belief, so people will be more likely to, you know, seek seek out and then respond in an anxious way. So we do still have that state emotion, and then that, in turn negatively impacts our health behaviours. Interesting. Wow.
Okay. So what for the moment would you say is the most interesting or surprising result that you found?
So what's been really interesting so far is that we have in two of our studies, so the two studies that we've done so far, absolutely shown this that trait emotions do predict belief in conspiracy theories. So as trait anxiety increases, for instance, so disbelief and medical conspiracy theories, and then this in turn reduces the for health intentions that I mentioned. And we have demonstrated this with trait anxiety twice. So across two studies, and trade under nuance, but what I would say is kind of surprising is that in my second study, we didn't find the same effect with trait anger. So there's a lot to kind of unpick there as to why sometimes it is showing this effect, and then sometimes it isn't. But we have what I think is really interesting and exciting is that we've consistently demonstrated that trait anxiety does predict belief and medical conspiracy theories, and that this, in turn, can really detrimentally impact people's health seeking intentions. Wow.
That's interesting. I was just wondering, do you think that anxiety would lead to belief in all conspiracy theories, not just medical ones? And do you think that this is maybe one of the contributing factors to the rise in conspiracy theories is that there's been a rise in anxiety in the population recently? Do you think those two things might be linked?
I think that's a really interesting perspective to take. And I think without doing further research, you know, among other conspiracy theories, I wouldn't like to say for sure, but I do think that is a plausible avenue to investigate in terms of anxiety and medical conspiracy theories. I feel like it makes sense because our health is an incredibly emotive topic. And, you know, we have a lot of health anxiety in this day and age, especially, you know, the age of the internet, where we can readily access information and self diagnose that increases anxiety. And so these medical conspiracy theories, maybe we're to kind of deal with that. But I do also think that different conspiracy theories serve different functions. So you know, some conspiracy theories may just be purely entertain, you know, maybe for you know, entertainment purposes. But others, such as medical conspiracy theories have completely different function. So, I think some emotions have more relevance to, you know, some conspiracy theories, and maybe not as much with others.
It's really interesting, maybe just a bit more on this anxiety. I'm just wondering, like, you know, if you're anxious, and you go out and search these conspiracy theories as a way to, to maybe help your anxiety, do they indeed, do you think they do indeed do that and help people kind of like, find a way to understand the world that reduces their anxiety or do you think they can be more anxiety provoking?
I absolutely think that they can be more anxiety provoking. I think a lot of it is down to individual differences. So it may serve to reduce that Anxiety and some people. But what we have shown is that the as trait anxiety increases soldiers disbelief and conspiracy theories. And I think that alone is interesting. But what we see as a result is the reduction in health behaviours. So we're seeing almost a distrust towards the health care anxiety, street and anxiety towards that. So it is really a question of further research we need to do in order to really kind of understand this. But what we do know is that conspiracy theories do serve functions. And one of those functions maybe to reduce anxiety. So somebody may be going to seeking out these conspiracy theories with the intention to reduce anxiety. But what we're actually finding is an increase instead, and then we see the negative consequences as a result.
Yeah. Okay. That's interesting. So you said you would do some more studies? Where do you hope to take your research in the future?
In terms of my PhD, I have over a year left. So I do hope to continue with at least another two studies in the future, I'd like to minister some experiments and how we can reduce these beliefs. So so far, I've shown that yes, there is a link, you know, emotions do seem to drive these beliefs. Okay, but then how do we target these emotions? Because we know from past research that simply refuting a conspiracy theory doesn't reduce belief, if any, then you as the researcher, or you as the person trying to say that that conspiracy isn't real, you become part of the wider conspiracy. So it's almost like, we need to find other ways to reduce those beliefs and perhaps target in our emotions as a way to do that. So there's things like emotion regulation strategies, and that's kind of the direction that my research has taken at the minute, which will be hopefully the final PhD study for me, where I will hopefully try and implement some of these strategies as a way to reduce conspiracy beliefs. And if it works, then hopefully, that is something that we can then continue with in the future.
How would you go about testing that so I can how you would reduce anxiety, but then are you going to introduce a conspiracy and see if people believe or not after you've induced their emotions,
so the without giving too much away? The the kind of overall hope is that my my next study, I will be exposing my participants to a conspiracy theory and measuring that emotions as a result. Okay. Okay, so my first step is to investigate. Okay, does this emotion Sorry, just this conspiracy theory elicit an emotion? Okay, and is this effect strengthened in those who are high in the trait? Emotion? So people who are more likely to be anxious, and people who are more likely to be angry? Does when they see conspiracy theories, does that elicit a stronger response? And does that negatively impact health intentions to a greater extent? Okay, so that's the first step. Then following on from that, if that is the case, then I want to broadly explore different emotion regulation strategies, and how they relate to conspiracy beliefs. So then going from that, if that all works, which we know with research, sometimes it doesn't, we might have to take a completely different approach. But if it does work, then we hope to implement some of those strategies into our participants, or we may expose them to a conspiracy theory, ask them to apply an emotion regulation strategy, and then measure the difference, see if it does, indeed, reduce conspiracy, please. Okay,
interesting. Look forward to hearing. And my last question is, what do you think the impact of this work could be? How could it affect the broader world?
So I feel that the implications of my PhD largely impact public health. So we, like I said, based on my two studies, we do have that consistent evidence that emotions and belief and medical conspiracy theories negatively impact our health behaviours. So this, again, can be at an individual level. So it may be that somebody might not seek, you know, treatment from a GP, which could then you know, negatively impact future health prospects, you know, if they don't get something seemed to get the correct treatment as a result of these conspiracy theories. You know, that's very much at an individual level, but then at a wider public health level. Going back to the COVID-19 pandemic, we really saw that these conspiracy theories impacted the course of the pandemic. So, public health is a real kind of men and area that my research can have an impact. And hopefully, by addressing these conspiracy theories, we can promote people to lead healthier lifestyle, you know, or seek more positive health care options at an individual level, but also if we were ever in a situation like COVID. Again, having people not believe these conspiracy theories as much could mean, you know, a different outcome, a more positive outcome of the patent of a pandemic. You know, I don't a very sort of wider level.
Well, I hope that all your studies will turn out as you plan.
Thank you. Me too.
If our listeners want to follow along with you, as you are continuing your research and reporting on it, where could they find you online?
So I'm on Twitter. My Twitter handle is @annafmaughan. And I do kind of try and keep up with regular updates on Twitter, so anything that I publish or blog or anything like that you'll be able to find on my Twitter.
Awesome. I'll put that in the show notes. listeners. If you'd like to learn more about more hungry psychology, check out our psychology partners blog at Northumbria psy.com. You can also follow us on Twitter at home via Psy. If you want you can follow me on Twitter at Brown g n a Mii where I will update you on. If you'd like to be interviewed on podcasts, you're just the one who would please email me at Genavee firstname.lastname@example.org. Finally, if you'd like to podcast make sure to subscribe to our podcast on your listening app. Give us a review and rating. We can also help us by telling your friends and giving our podcast innovation. I hope you've learned something take care