Early COVID-19 Government Communication Is Associated With Reduced Interest in the QAnon Conspiracy Theory

Ho Fai Chan*, Stephanie M. Rizio, Ahmed Skali, Benno Torgler

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

    9 Citations (Scopus)
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    Does inadequate risk communication during uncertain times trigger the rise of conspiratorial ideas? We hypothesize that, where government COVID-19 risk communication started early, as measured by the number of days between the start of the communication campaign and the first case in the country, citizens are less likely to turn to conspiratorial explanations for the pandemic, which typically assign blame to powerful actors with secret interests. In Study 1a, we find strong support for our hypothesis in a global sample of 111 countries, using daily Google search volumes for QAnon as a measure of interest in QAnon, which is a conspiracy theory contending, among other things, that COVID-19 is a conspiracy orchestrated by powerful actors and aimed at repressing civil liberties. The effect is robust to a variety of sensitivity checks. In Study 1b, we show that the effect is not explainable by pre-pandemic cross-country differences in QAnon interest, nor by 'secular' rising interest in QAnon amid the pandemic. A one-standard deviation (26.2days) increase in communication lateness is associated with a 26% increase in QAnon interest. In pre-registered Study 2, we find limited support for the proposition that early communication reduces self-reported pandemic-related conspiratorial ideation in a sample of respondents from 51 countries. Overall, our results provide evidence that interest in extreme ideas, like QAnon, are highly responsive to government risk communication, while less extreme forms of conspiracism are perhaps less so.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number681975
    Number of pages12
    JournalFrontiers in Psychology
    Publication statusPublished - 31-Aug-2021


    • conspiracy theories
    • QAnon
    • COVID-19
    • coronavirus
    • government risk communication
    • blame allocation


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