How to Test if a Kid Will Believe Conspiracy Theories

Believing things that aren’t true is extremely harmful to the development of children. Many parents encourage it anyway.

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When your son comes home from school mumbling about lizard people and your daughter swears the moon landing was a con, you may be raising a conspiracy theorists. And, yes, that sounds crazy. But it’s shockingly common. Think, for just a moment, about the dumb things that kids are willing to believe. Anyone who buys the Santa mythos is likely to think there was someone else on the grassy knoll. This should worry parents. Conspiracy theories are not just bad for socialization, they’re indicative of real problems.

If kids buy into conspiracy theories, it’s often because they’re lacking attention at home or because they have an unhealthy amount of ego. But how can you tell if your children are about to put on tinfoil hats and disappear underground—or just messing around with contrary positions? Fortunately, there’s a psychometric test for that.

Meet The Generic Conspiracist Beliefs Scale

Scientists at the Goldsmiths University of London developed a simple, 15-question test in 2013 to rank the seriousness and pervasiveness of conspiracy beliefs. They winnowed their test from a master list of conspiracy theories, and discovered that every theory more or less fell into five neat categories. There’s the big three: government malfeasance, extraterrestrial cover-ups, and global conspiracies. And then there’s the two subtler beliefs: control of information (science is manipulated, so vaccines and climate change are fake), and personal well-being (the theory that individuals are currently being harmed by concealed dangers, such as chemtrails).

To calculate your child’s score, have him or her answer the following questions with: definitely not true (1), probably not true (2), cannot decide (3), probably true (4), definitely true (5). The highest possible score is 75. The lowest possible score is 15. Among the general public, the average score for each question is 2.22, and the average total score hovers around 30.

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