What Kind of Person Believes in QAnon?

And how should we talk to those who do?

Posted Sep 23, 2020

Marc Nozell/Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license
Source: Marc Nozell/Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Media attention around QAnon is buzzing as we head into election season. Here's an interview I conducted for Julia Sachs's article about QAnon for GritDaily:

Have you noticed specific traits in people that become QAnon believers?

First of all, about half the population believes in at least one conspiracy theory, so conspiracy theory beliefs are "normal." That said, psychology research has shown greater degrees of certain cognitive quirks among those who believe in conspiracy theories—like need for uniqueness; needs for certainty, closure, and control; and lack of analytical thinking. But the best predictor of conspiracy theory belief may be mistrust, and more specifically, mistrust of authoritative sources of information. Which means that those most likely to become QAnon believers mistrust mainstream sources of information, spend a lot of time on the internet and social media looking for alternative answers, and are devotees of President Trump.

QAnon also includes other facets that are appealing to some that can serve as "hooks" that lure people into the world of QAnon. There's obviously a central pro-Trump/anti-liberal component, but there's also considerable overlap with evangelical Christianity and its looming apocalyptic battle between good and evil. And now there's overlap with people who are concerned about child sex trafficking, with QAnon highjacking #SaveTheChildren. Curiously, however, those who are "hooked" from this angle are able to turn a blind eye to President Trump's own friendship with Jeffrey Epstein or the several charges made against him about sexual assault of minors, which amounts to a classic case of cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias.

In what ways does this conspiracy theory impact relationships? 

In order to maintain fringe beliefs, it's often necessary to turn away from the mainstream, including any family and friends who disagree with you. In "falling down the rabbit hole," QAnon followers have often found a new world, and to some extent a new "family" of like-minded believers that make previous relationships less rewarding and more fraught. Similar to differences in political beliefs, arguments about QAnon can definitely break up marriages or cause significant strain on other relationships.

Immersing oneself in the internet world of QAnon can also resemble a behavioral addiction to pursuits like video games or gambling. QAnon is a complex world of interrelated conspiracy theories; it takes significant effort to follow. And so, devotees often end up spending more and more time on it, at the expense of in-person relationships, work, or more traditional recreational activities.  

How should someone approach speaking to a loved one about their belief of QAnon? 

Before you try, think about what your goals are: Are you just trying to make small talk over Thanksgiving dinner? Are you really trying to understand what they believe and why? Or are you trying to change their minds?

Depending on the circumstances, it might be best not to bring up QAnon at all. If you are going to ask about it, try to start by listening in an effort to understand. See if there's any common ground. Understand that belief in QAnon requires a rejection of mainstream sources of information, so that bringing those up isn't going to change anyone's mind. If you are hoping to challenge their beliefs, read up on QAnon: Arguing from a place of ignorance isn't likely to get you very far. Neither is ridicule, if your loved one is a "true believer."

Is that different from clashing political or religious beliefs? How scared should someone be of an aunt who believes in QAnon come Thanksgiving? 

I wouldn't use the word "scared." If you're not looking for a fight, don't argue and don't engage. If they bring it up, try saying something like, "I know this is really important to you, but I'd prefer to not talk about this... can we talk about something else tonight?"

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