The Impact of Exposure to Media Messages Promoting Government Conspiracy Theories on Distrust in the Government: Evidence from a Two-Stage Randomized Experiment

Minchul Kim, Xiaoxia Cao


Does exposure to videos promoting government conspiracy theories cultivate cynicism toward the government? The results of a randomized experiment suggest that exposure to a video promoting a government conspiracy theory increased belief in the conspiracy immediately after the exposure and two weeks later. It is even more important that the immediate increase in the belief translated into higher levels of distrust in the government two weeks later. Further analysis indicated that engagement with the video might have explained the observed effects of the video on the belief and the distrust. The findings suggest that media messages promoting government conspiracy theories may have the potential to induce long-lasting cynicism toward the government through engaging viewers in the messages and, therefore, increasing belief in the theories.


belief, conspiracy theories, distrust in the government, long-term effect, message engagement

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