Da Vinci's "The Last Supper," key to some of the theories.
A new study finds that people who are anxious about death are more likely to believe in the conspiracy theories outlined in Dan Brown's 2003 book, The Da Vinci Code. The author contended in the best-seller that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had children, leaving living descendents behind. Plus, he says the Catholic Church covered up this fact, while a secret society called The Priory of Sion was formed to keep Jesus' descendents safe.
"It's difficult to change people's beliefs in these theories because they tend to be very fundamental to the way they view the world," study researcher Anna Newheiser, a doctoral student in social psychology at Yale University, told LiveScience.com.
The researchers gathered college students who had read the book and conducted two studies. In the first, they asked 144 students to rate their agreement with Da Vinci conspiracy beliefs, such as, "The church has burned witches and other 'heretics' to keep the truth about Jesus hidden." The students also filled out questionnaires about their religiosity, biblical knowledge, enjoyment of The Da Vinci Code novel or movie, and their fear of death.
The students most likely to believe the conspiracies in Brown's novel were those who enjoyed the book the most, expressed the most New Age beliefs, and felt the most anxiety about dying. People who were religious, knowledgeable about the Bible and desiring of social approval, on the other hand, tended not to buy into the Da Vinci conspiracy.
Next, the researchers called 50 of the original students back and presented them with historical evidence that the Da Vinci conspiracy is false. They found that among the most religious participants, this counterevidence lessened the belief in the conspiracy. Nonreligious participants, however, did not budge.
Conspiracy theories "can alleviate people's sense of loss of control by giving them a reason that things happen," Newheiser said. "In this case, it's particularly interesting because it might help people who are nonreligious or non-Christian to understand the events related to early Christian history."
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