Misplaced trust: When trust in science fosters belief in pseudoscience and the benefits of critical evaluation

Thomas C. O'Brien, Ryan Palmer, Dolores Albarracin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


At a time when pseudoscience threatens the survival of communities, understanding this vulnerability, and how to reduce it, is paramount. Four preregistered experiments (N = 532, N = 472, N = 605, N = 382) with online U.S. samples introduced false claims concerning a (fictional) virus created as a bioweapon, mirroring conspiracy theories about COVID-19, and carcinogenic effects of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). We identify two critical determinants of vulnerability to pseudoscience. First, participants who trust science are more likely to believe and disseminate false claims that contain scientific references than false claims that do not. Second, reminding participants of the value of critical evaluation reduces belief in false claims, whereas reminders of the value of trusting science do not. We conclude that trust in science, although desirable in many ways, makes people vulnerable to pseudoscience. These findings have implications for science broadly and the application of psychological science to curbing misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104184
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
StatePublished - Sep 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Critical thinking
  • Methodological literacy
  • Misinformation
  • Trust in science

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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