We tested the link between COVID-19 conspiracy theories and health protective behaviors in three studies: one at the start of the pandemic in the UK (UK), a second just before the first nationwide lockdown, and a third during this locking (NOT = 302, 404 and 399). We focused on conspiracy theories that did not deny the existence of COVID-19 and assessed how well they predicted a range of health-protective behaviors, before and after controlling for psychological and socio-demographic characteristics associated with belief in conspiracy theory. Beliefs in the COVID-19 conspiracy were positively correlated with beliefs in other unrelated conspiracies and a general conspiracy mindset, and negatively correlated with trust in government and a tendency towards analytical thinking (compared to intuitive thinking). Unexpectedly, believers in the COVID-19 conspiracy have adhered to basic health guidelines and advanced health protection measures just as strictly as non-believers. Conspiracy supporters were, however, less willing to install the contact tracing app, get tested and vaccinated against COVID-19, and were more likely to share misinformation about COVID-19 – which could undermine public health initiatives. Study 3 found that conspiracy theorists were less willing to engage in health-protecting behaviors that were beyond their personal control, perceiving them to have a negative balance between risks and benefits. We discuss models explaining conspiracy beliefs and health-protecting behaviors, and suggest practical recommendations for public health initiatives.
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