Dan Ariely Offers Advice on How to Deal with Conspiracy Theorists

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:

Dear Dan,

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.

53 thoughts on “Dan Ariely Offers Advice on How to Deal with Conspiracy Theorists

  1. I like this advice. I think empathy can be a powerful and rewarding way to deal with many people. Trying to change someone is not nearly as rewarding as developing a close connection with them, in spite of disagreements, or a perception that they may be a little nuts.

    But speaking of conspiracy theories, if some pollster asked me if I believed microchips were in the vaccine, I’d probably think that was funny, and say, “yes.” So I hope they correct their poll results for sarcasm error.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. you have to wonder how many people would respond like you would. As part of putting this blog together, I was also reading about the flat earth conspiracy – that seems to be one of the most prevalent…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Back in my college days, I became aware of the Flat Earth Society, and thought it was so funny that I joined. For about $5.00, I got a monthly newsletter that kept me amused. It was better than a subscription to Newsweek.

        Liked by 3 people

      1. She. Well, ya know… “Russian news is FAR more trustworthy!!”

        She genuinely believes she is the ultimate authority on everything. Genuinely. There’s a > 90% chance I’ll be quitting this coming week, specifically because of her. Since making the decision Fri evening, my entire world has felt lighter!!

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Well I think I will just avoid them and say nothing because I really don’t have the patience to pretend to be empathetic. I would probably giggle. Plus I am better at sarcasm than empathy. By avoiding them, I won’t push any hot buttons.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Can’t I just listen to my uncle and then roll around on the ground in hysterics? You can’t reason with these people, so there’s no point in trying to change their minds. Perhaps I can buy them tickets to the professional wrestling matches because there’s more truth there than in some of the absolutely nutty conspiracy theories.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Shit! I opted for one of the two dose vaccines, now I don’t know which arm has the microchip. I find this one of the most hilarious of conspiracy theories as the first time anyone vaccinated had an x-ray or CAT scan, the chip would be obvious. As yet, I have not seen that evidence. Hold on, I think my left arm is beeping….low battery?

    Liked by 2 people

  5. this seems to be a very reasonable, fair, and understanding approach. it’s a challenge though, because science and reason really don’t enter into the equation.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. But, what if the so called “conspiracy” is reality? Personally, I believe it is almost impossible these days to empirically determine what is trues or false. Almost everyone has some agenda and wants “their truth” to be “the truth”. I’m at the point where I trust no one when it comes to so called “news”. That being said, nothing surprises me anymore and nothing is outside the realm of possibility.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. and that’s why I think the constant claim of “fake news” is so divisive; many people aren’t sure what to believe, even though science has done a pretty good job of explaining things for a few centuries. but somehow science got politicized…


  7. Dan’s approach is a good one. Don’t expect to be able to change their minds at one sitting…or 20. A “dent” in their belief is about the best to hope for especially when their Dear Leader keeps telling them to be afraid and angry.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What about denting the minds of the other side? Are you confident enough to believe your side only speaks the truth and has no agenda other than what is best for the Country and the opposing viewpoint is always an agenda driven lie? Asking in a civil, respectful tone of voice.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. What I’m saying is trying to get conspiracy theorists to be less driven by anger, fear, disappointment and feelings of powerlessness is a tough task especially when the person many of them believe can do no wrong (Trump) keeps telling them they should be anxious, angry and afraid. One thing I’m very confident about is there has been no credible evidence produced in court that massive voter fraud resulted in Trump losing the election. That’s kind of the mother of all conspiracy theories in my view.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It’s amazing that despite the lack of evidence, so many people are still clinging to the votong conspiracy. I’m looking forward to August 13 when there is no change in who our President is…


  8. What I find odd about it all, Jim, is that if you feel out of control with circumstances, why would you turn on the very thing that is going to help you get some control back i.e. the vaccine. Anyway, have you seen the size of a microchip. I might have missed the super shrinking technology but I don’t see how you insert a microchip in a vaccine. PS My dad is conspiracy theorist. As he couldn’t be admitted into hospital with his recent illness I had to pay for his treatment which was quite expensive. I told him he had to have the vaccine or I wasn’t going to invest in his help. it would be a poor return on my investment in his health if he got covid and died [and he would die of covid with his health issues]. My mom said I was mean but I thought it was quite reasonable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. IDK what to say here except that I know two people who died of Covid. The first was an elderly friend of my mom’s who contracted it socially before vaccines were available. I’d stopped Mom from going to her house for Thanksgiving which was clearly the right decision. Interestingly, her kids, who may have been the carriers to their Mom since they also got it around the same time, didn’t know their Mom had COPD.

      The second is the youngest son of a longtime family friend. This family friend also happened to be the 93 year old widowed boyfriend of my 86 year old widowed mother pre-pandemic and pre her fall, stroke and continuing hospice sojourn. Norman and my mom go way back (Mom knew his late wife before he did) and Sis and I were raised pretty much alongside Norman’s two eldest children. The eldest son died last year in a mountain bike crash. He’d made his living as a sports journalist so at least he went out doing something he enjoyed.

      The one who died from Covid was also a government conspiracy theorist who was married to a Vietnamese woman who is now a doctor and is the product of a large extended mixed race family that lives all over the USA now. I didn’t know Marc very well but just given how he essentially often lived with his wife’s extended family and just as often followed her around the Western Hemisphere or raised their kids on his own, both while she was pursuing her careers, I’d say he felt angry, powerless, or disappointed about the current state of the world. Still trying to find out if he’d been vaccinated, though I doubt he was.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. good move with keeping your mom safe…

        and it’s sad to hear about these conspiracy theory types suffering the consequences of their beliefs; it’s a shame he didn’t face the facts earlier…

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I think that’s great advice, Jim. Listening and understanding is important. It is only when we truly understand what they are thinking that we can address the issues. Arguments rarely work.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great advice. Too often people forget that beliefs don’t determine the value of an individual. Kindness and empathy do help.


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