Study: Worries about modernity linked to medical conspiracy theories

New research sheds some additional light on who and why people believe that features of modern life pose threats to their personal health.

“I have written a number of papers with colleagues on conspiracy theories,” study author Adrian Furnham of University College London told PsyPost. “We are trying to understand who and why people hold conspiracy theories. I have also worked on modern health worries with very much the same questions. Given the similarities of people who hold both views we decided to examine the relationship.”

They study of 335 British participants ages 12-71 found that medical conspiracy theories were strongly associated with worries about the adverse health of effects of modern technologies.

People who worried about the health effects of things like genetically modified food, cell phone towers and microwave ovens were also more likely to believe in medical conspiracy theories like that water fluoridation is being used to hide the presence of chemical products being secretly dumped into the water supply.

The researchers also found that older people, people with more religious and right-wing beliefs, people who thought they had poor mental health, and people who used complementary medicine were more likely to be worried about modern threats to their health.

However, the study employed a cross-sectional methodology, meaning that the researchers cannot draw inferences about cause and effect.

“It is always better to have larger samples to check the reliability of results,” Furnham said. “Also the study does not explain either the origin of these health worries or their consequences. These issues will be explored in future work.”

The study, “Are modern health worries associated with medical conspiracy theories?” was published online June 10, 2017 in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research.