The denialism has always existed. In fact, as early as 1969, when Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the Moon, thousands of people around the world were quick to say he was all lie and that this was nothing more than a movie that had been recorded to have humanity deceived. In any case, this obstinacy in denying the evidence was not something new. Previously there had been, for example, the Holocaust deniers. Then came the climate change and many more. But it seems that with the desperation of spending two years immersed in a pandemic, everything has skyrocketed.
Of course, knowing about the existence of SARS-CoV-2 The deniers of this virus did not take long to appear. Later Filomena arrived, leaving the snow deniers free. And just a little tour of social networks to find people denying a wide range of issues. There are deniers of the clitoris, of the telescopes, or even of the hours. Yes, recently a group of tweeters started a thread debating that hours don’t exist because they don’t last as long as they used to.
What’s going on? What goes through their heads? Is there any reason why viruses are now proliferating almost as fast as the virus causing the pandemic? Only the psychology can provide an answer to these questions.
The psychology behind denialism
They said in a study published last year by scientists from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology that all human beings believe at least in a conspiracy. The doubt it is practically something intrinsic to our human condition. And sometimes, in fact, it is beneficial. It has served us well as a species when we are hesitating whether to approach a brightly colored snake or eat an unfamiliar wild berry. Doubt is the basis of critical thinking and that is a very beneficial thing. But sometimes it brings us to a point where that doubt becomes an obsession.
And many opportunists take advantage of that. Because let’s face it. The basis of denialism is sometimes a seed that is sown in search of selfish gains. It is very clear with climate change. If I spread the idea that climate change is a scam, I will be able to continue polluting with my factories and nobody will worry about the consequences for the planet. Other times there is no clear origin. Simply a doubt that is magnified by giant steps, especially now that we have loudspeakers like the one on social networks. But how does that doubt arise?
For Aaron Del Olmo, neuropsychologist at the San Juan de Dios Hospital in Seville, the key is in a confirmation bias. “Ideally, all of us would have the ability to analyze all the information available to draw conclusions adjusted to reality and thus make decisions,” he says. “But we don’t have all the information available, not many times we want them. In general, we have a tendency or bias to accept the information that fits us and that which is not usually discarded or is usually downplayed”.
This is something that coincides with the position of the psychologist Steve Taylor; who, in 2015, explained in an article for Psychology Today that sometimes we tend to deal with difficult situations through self-deception.
A tendency not to believe what we don’t want to believe; which, furthermore, for Del Olmo is the key to the group identity of the deniers. “This is precisely one of the mechanisms that generates a certain group identity among the deniers. The fact that information that contradicts them will be discarded tending to give alternative explanations, generally conspiracy.
The role of fear
As Taylor said, difficult situations make us self-deceive. Discomfort is avoided. This psychologist cited in his article the example of the climate change. But we have also found ourselves in a similar situation with the coronavirus pandemic. It has become a perfect breeding ground for the proliferation of deniers. Not only COVID-19 deniers. Also a large number of the most varied issues.
This, for Del Olmo, is one more example of what interconnected that society is.
“I believe that there have always been denial movements, but in this case the pandemic phenomenon has been a global phenomenon, which has affected us all. That and a much more interconnected society, with information that travels faster, implies a greater diffusion of ideas. Whether or not they are correct. And applying the idea of confirmation bias, you will always find something that confirms you, even if sometimes it is a scarce data compared to the data that exists”.
Aaron Del Olmo, neuropsychologist
But even with the lure of fear or confirmation bias, there must be a reason why the deniers specifically believe in the option that, given the data, is less reasonable. In other words, why do we give more importance to that information than to what comes to us from scientific sources? According to Del Olmo, it may be due in part to how our previous experiences shape our decisions. “Our previous experiences and our prior knowledge lead us to consider some information more relevant than others,” says the expert. “I think exactly prejudices and ideologies they are based on similar mechanisms, since they rest on multiple biases and on being oriented towards those sources of information that prove us right and do not question us”.
In fact, this is something that contemplates also Neil Levy, professor of philosophy at Monash University, in a study published in 2019. He notes that we generally “rely on cues of benevolence and competence to distinguish between reliable witnesses of the unreliable.” However, “when debates become deeply politicized, making a claim can itself be a sign of unreliability.”
If we add to this the fact that, according to Del Olmo, questioning can sometimes be a reinforcement and that human beings tend to look for reinforcements in our behavior, we would have plenty of fuel to light the fire of denialism.
Deniers are dangerous
Sometimes the statements of deniers they are fun. How can anyone ensure that the clitoris does not exist? That is surely because he has never found it. Round of internet memes.
Yes, some are quite innocent. But denialism can also be very dangerous when it comes to health. For example, long before the denial of the coronavirus, the HIV deniers. Individuals who denied the existence of a virus that, as of 2017, had killed 35 million people Worldwide.
Unfortunately today there is no cure, but there are treatments that help patients have a very good quality of life. It no longer has the mortality it once had. But of course, for a patient to undergo treatment, they must believe that the disease they have is real. The same to avoid contracting it. And unfortunately, in places like Africa, where the incidence of this virus is very high, we have already seen how the denial movements have endangered the prevention campaigns.
It was explained in 2008 by the researcher David Gisselquist in a study for the magazine International Journal of STDs & AIDS. In it he did not talk about HIV denialism, but rather about AIDS denialism.
He was talking about movements in which they do believe in the existence of the virus as such, but consider that it is very difficult for it to transmit a disease. He points out that these people can have a great weight in the population of the Subsaharan Africa, dangerously affecting prevention campaigns.
And we have also seen it with the coronavirus. It is not easy to have a figure on the number of people who have died from denial of COVID-19. But it is clear that if someone believes that the disease does not exist to the point where they stop protecting themselves and the people who depend on them, it is very likely that this will eventually push the virus towards vulnerable patients, causing their death. It may not be the denier himself, but his neighbor, his grandmother or the mother of his co-worker.
And of course, when it comes to natural phenomena, it can be dangerous too. The climate change It’s a good example. And a more extreme case would be the one described in the movie don’t look up. It is a parody, but a parody that almost becomes a horror movie when we realize how well portrayed society is.
Bonus: What happens to the deniers of the hours?
Some of the deniers who have drawn the most attention on the internet lately are those jokingly known as the time deniers. They are people who say that the hours now do not last the same as before. Even that the second hand of the clocks moves at a different speed. The causes of this denial can be all that we have seen so far. But the truth is that, in this specific case, there are reasons that can make us believe that time does not pass at the same speed as when we were children.
Specifically, when we were little it seemed to us that time passed slower. Elementary school was a temporary abyss before us. However, as we become adults, we have the feeling that six years go by in the blink of an eye.
exist numerous theories to explain this fact, as mathematical biology professor Christian Yates pointed out in 2016 in an article for The Conversation. One of the most interesting is the guilt to the amount of new stimuli what we perceive When we are young, everything is new, so our brain needs more time to process it. The result is a feeling that everything happens more slowly. In fact, it is believed that this could be the reason why, after a traumatic event, we remember everything in slow motion. Too much to process.
This is also explained by adaptation to the environment. When we are children, even our own home is an unknown place, with new corners to explore. However, when we get older and have a permanent home and a permanent place of work, there are no nooks and crannies in which I can get distracted Our brain.
In short, no, time has not changed. The second hand of the watch continues to move at the same speed. Therefore, if you are one of those who search the internet for a conspiracy that explains why the hours have changed, try to change that by launching yourself to discover new places. Maybe you can stretch the hours a little more. But that is not a conspiracy. It is science.