Testing the bidirectional relationship between belief in COVID-19 conspiracy theories and psychological distress : A five-wave longitudinal study

Hoi-Wing CHAN*, Ying-yi HONG*, Li LIN

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


Previous studies have primarily focused on understanding why people believe conspiracy theories, especially during societal crises (e.g., the COVID-19 pandemic). The investigation of how such conspiracy beliefs would influence people's mental well-being has just begun recently. The present research aims to address this crucial question by testing the relationships between psychological distress and COVID-19 conspiracy beliefs with a five-wave longitudinal study. On the one hand, COVID-19 conspiracy beliefs could be more appealing to people with heightened distress, as these theories apparently help people to make sense of the uncertainty and life-threatening disease outbreak. On the other hand, conspiracy theories could be a source of existential threat and thus, would induce rather than reduce psychological distress. We tested these possibilities empirically by a series of cross-lagged model analyses. Using the random intercept cross-lagged panel model analysis, we only found a between-person association but not a cross-lagged within-person relationship between the two. COVID-19 conspiracy beliefs was predicted by being more politically conservative. These findings were further corroborated by the supplementary latent growth curve analyses. Overall, our findings suggest that conspiracy beliefs may not induce or reduce psychological distress in the context of COVID-19.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12807
JournalSocial and Personality Psychology Compass
Issue number9
Early online date23 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research is partially funded by an internal grant and a mini‐seed fund scheme conferred to H‐W Chan by the Department of Applied Social Sciences and the Mental Health Research Centre, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and a General Research Fund (Ref No. 14621920) by Research Grant Council of Hong Kong SAR government, China conferred to Y. Hong.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. Social and Personality Psychology Compass published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • conspiracy beliefs
  • COVID-19
  • psychological distress
  • random intercept cross-lagged panel model


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