In a recent post, I noted how some 20% of Americans believe in the conspiracy theory that microchips may have been planted inside COVID-19 vaccines.
Many of you expressed disbelief that the number was so high, and you may also be wondering what to do if you encounter a person who holds such a belief.
Well as fate would have it, Dan Ariely addresses this issue in this week’s column in the Wall Street Journal. Below is the letter he received, along with his response:
My aunt and uncle invited me to dinner this week. I’m looking forward to seeing them but dreading the inevitable conversation about climate change (we live in the Pacific Northwest), as my uncle is a firm believer in conspiracy theories. How can I get through to someone I deeply care about without getting into an argument? —Emily
And Dan’s response:
The odds of changing your uncle’s opinions in one meeting are 0. Don’t even aim for that. But you might be able to make a dent in his beliefs over time if you approach the conversation calmly and with empathy.
Often people are drawn to conspiracy theories because they feel angry, powerless, or disappointed about their lives and the state of the world. For example, perhaps your uncle feels anxious about the recent heatwave and his lack of control over the environment. Research shows that such feelings are common among conspiracy theorists.
Listen to what your uncle has to say. When you better understand the forces underlying his beliefs, you can try to help him deal with these more directly and in this way reduce his need for conspiracy theories.
The COVID-19 chip conspiracy fits perfectly into Dan’s explanation: many people feel angry, powerless, or disappointed about the current state of the world.
So it seems the best way to talk with people who believe in this particular conspiracy is to first better understand the person’s underlying emotions, such as anger or a sense of powerlessness, and offer some empathy for such emotions since most of us also have such feelings.
Perhaps once a person realizes that such feelings are natural; their need to fall back on a conspiracy theory as a way to deal with such feelings may dissipate. And at that point, such individuals may be able to listen to alternative points of view.