Survey shows 78% of Americans believe conspiracy theories have a detrimental effect on society, but an interactive research project offers hope
PHILADELPHIA–(BUSINESS WIRE)–The School of Thought International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting critical thinking, has partnered with academics at Cambridge University (Cambridge, U.K.) and The University of Queensland (Brisbane, Australia) to improve healthy skepticism for conspiracy theories.
In contrast to standard debunking strategies, which can backfire, the Conspiracy Test is designed to help people conduct their own critical thinking investigations.
“Conspiratorial beliefs are connected with issues of trust, power, and control, so giving individuals the agency to evaluate conspiracy theories critically on their own terms may help improve rationality,” said Sander van der Linden, Professor of Social Psychology at Cambridge University, author of the book ‘Foolproof,’ and an advisor to the project.
The online platform presents a series of critical thinking steps featuring a ‘Deep-state Alien Illuminati Lizard’ named Captain Zardulu. David McRaney, a Director of The School of Thought and author of the best-selling book ‘How Minds Change,’ says that humor was a key element of the design. “By acknowledging the existence of real conspiracies and making the interaction a little less serious, we hope to reduce defensive attitudes and open people up to explore their beliefs honestly, critically, and without the threat of judgment,” he said.
Initial results show a 30% average increase in skepticism for popular conspiracy theories such as Q-Anon and Climate Change denial.
A survey commissioned by The School of Thought found that a vast majority of Americans believe that conspiracy theories have a detrimental effect on society, and more than a quarter of respondents said that conspiracy theories had hurt their relationships.
“Many people are torn between not wanting to argue with a family member about their conspiracy beliefs and worrying about them going down harmful rabbit holes. We hope to learn and share what works best to help people bolster their critical defenses against misinformation and narrative manipulations,” said Jesse Richardson, CEO of The School of Thought. “We’re primarily interested in reaching the ‘conspiracy curious’ rather than the much smaller cohort who have strong and entrenched beliefs about conspiracy theories,” he added.
The Conspiracy Test is free to play via theconspiracytest.org. The test will help researchers understand conspiracy thinking and how minds change. It supports efforts to combat misinformation and irrational beliefs, provide evidence to technology and media companies to help improve their services, and help governments with ways to fight foreign disinformation campaigns.
Live results are viewable on the website. The School for Thought is planning a formal research study for 2024 in collaboration with international academic partners.
About The School of Thought
The School of Thought International is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting critical thinking. Their free resources, published under Creative Commons licenses, have reached over 30 million people in seven languages and are being used in thousands of schools and universities worldwide.
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