ENS, room Langevin, 24 rue Lhomond, 75005 Paris
For research and policy-development in public health, it is crucial to understand the spread of ideas and beliefs as well as diseases. Conspiracy theories about secret agendas behind vaccination programmes, the side effects of medical treatments, and cover-ups by the government or pharmaceutical industry are prevalent in many countries and can have devastating effects on health and well-being. I will present research aimed at understanding how and why these beliefs proliferate in different cultural contexts, using four key approaches: 1) a UK-based survey of exposure to, and belief in health conspiracy theories (HCTs); 2) a US-based study of attitudes predicting anti-vaccination beliefs and behaviour; 3) two experiments examining the content and transmission of HCTs; and 4) a novel transmission experiment in Sri Lanka examining the transmission of medical information in a rural context. Results suggest an important role of demographics, local factors, attitudes such as anti-establishment worldview and the nature of information content and structure.