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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.

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.

  1. The government is involved in the murder of innocent citizens and/or well-known public figures, and keeps this a secret.
  2. The power held by heads of state is second to that of small unknown groups who really control world politics.
  3. Secret organizations communicate with extraterrestrials, but keep this fact from the public.
  4. The spread of certain viruses and/or diseases is the result of the deliberate, concealed efforts of some organization.
  5. Groups of scientists manipulate, fabricate, or suppress evidence in order to deceive the public.
  6. The government permits or perpetrates acts of terrorism on its own soil, disguising its involvement.
  7. A small, secret group of people is responsible for making all major decisions, such as going to war.
  8. Evidence of alien contact is being concealed from the public.
  9. Technology with mind-control capacities is used on people without their knowledge.
  10. New and advanced technology which would harm current industry is being suppressed.
  11. The government uses people as patsies to hide its involvement in criminal activity.
  12. Certain significant events have been the result of the activity of a small group who secretly manipulate world events.
  13. Some UFO sightings and rumours are planned or staged in order to distract the public from real alien contact.
  14. Experiments involving new drugs or technologies are routinely carried out on the public without their knowledge or consent.
  15. A lot of important information is deliberately concealed from the public out of self-interest.

What If I Think This Test is a Conspiracy?

You’re wrong—but you probably scored pretty darn high on the “control of information” questions.

Seriously, My Kid Scored Way Higher Than 30. What Now?

Don’t panic. This test was designed to be taken under controlled conditions, and you asking your kid about UFOs and mind-control in the living room is far from controlled. It’s possible that, had a trained professional administered this test, the results would have been far different.

At the same time, the test can help identify harmful trends in conspiracy belief. For instance, if your child scored in the normal range for most questions but then scored especially high on the alien-related questions 3, 8, and 13, you’re probably fine. Because if your kid believes in UFOs but is otherwise well-adjusted, there’s little cause for concern. High scores on questions 5, 10, and 15 (which indicate anti-science positions) may be more problematic. You can expect to find anti-vaxxers and climate deniers in this group. Even worse, high scores on questions 2, 7, and 12 (indicating belief that a small cabal controls world events) may be linked to racism.

Is There Any Hope For Budding Conspiracy Theorists?

They could always run for president.

But seriously, it depends on the type of conspiracy theory. If your children believe in aliens but aren’t into global conspiracies and government cover-ups, there’s no particular treatment because it’s not particularly worrisome. But deep-seated conspiracy beliefs are often a symptom of paranoia or delusional disorder. These conditions can be treated via medication and cognitive behavioral therapy. If you think your child may be exhibiting the symptoms of these conditions, make sure to let your doctor know.