A new study from psychologists Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz helps to untangle the relationship between belief in conspiracy theories and paranoia.
The researchers found that conspiracy theorists are not necessarily paranoid. While paranoid people believe that almost everybody is out to get them, conspiracist believe that a few powerful people are out to get everybody. Their findings were published in the European Journal of Social Psychology.
“I have been studying conspiracy mentality for almost ten years now and although there is fantastic scholarly work out there, something bugged me about the way conspiracy scholars talk about conspiracy ‘believers’. Too often, there is a slight pathologizing tone and a certain arrogance towards the ‘crazy’ conspiracy believers,” explained study author Roland Imhoff, professor of social and legal psychology.
“On the one hand, I can see where this comes from, also because several colleagues have really negative interactions with people who endorsed conspiracy theories,” he told PsyPost. “On the other hand, I have always tried to not take a normative stand but merely describe what correlates, antecedent and consequences of belief in conspiracy theories are without claiming that having such beliefs is either correct or incorrect, normal or paranoid.
Scientists have found that certain psychological predispositions can make people more or less prone to believe conspiracy theories. Now, new research has found another trait that could be linked to conspiracy theories.
The study, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, suggests that conspiracy theories are associated with the desire to eliminate uncertainties. The study from researchers in Poland and the United Kingdom examined the role of cognitive closure, meaning the tendency to desire an answer for any particular question.
“Why do some people believe that the AIDS virus was created by the US government, that the British security services murdered Princess Diana or that Russians were involved in the Smolensk catastrophe of 2010 that killed the Polish president?” said Marta Marchlewska of the University of Warsaw, the study’s corresponding author. “There is no doubt that conspiracy theories give simple and structured answers to difficult questions. The aim of our research was to find out which psychological traits make people especially prone to adopt conspiratorial explanations and under what circumstances does it occur.”
“We found out that people who are especially motivated to reduce uncertainty by finding clear beliefs about reality and forming quick judgments on a given topic (those high in need for cognitive closure) adopt salient conspiratorial explanations for uncertain events that lack clear official explanations.”
Marchlewska and her colleagues conducted two separate experiments on a total of 700 Polish adults.
Pointing out logical inconsistencies in conspiracy theories can be an effective method of discrediting them, according to new research published in Frontiers in Psychology.
The researchers had 813 Hungarian adults listen to a speech outlining a made-up conspiracy that purported to explain how hidden Jewish groups and international financial powers were secretly shaping the fate of Hungary. The speech emphasized that “nothing happens by chance, nothing is what it seems, everything is interconnected with everything, and the world is divided into good and evil.”
The participants then listened to another speech which either: pointed out the logical flaws of the conspiracy theory, mocked the ridiculousness and irrationality of those who believed the conspiracy theory, or called attention to the dangers of scapegoating while attempting to increase empathy for Jews. A fourth group of participants, who were used as a control, listened to a weather forecast.
The researchers found that the rationality speech and the ridiculing speech — but not the empathetic speech — were effective in reducing belief in the conspiracy theory.
PsyPost interviewed Peter Kreko, a visiting professor at Indiana University, assistant professor at Eötvös Loránt University of Sciences and senior associate to Political Capital Institute. Read his explanation of the research below:
Individuals who hold strong beliefs in conspiracies often also score high in narcissism and low in self-esteem, according to 2015 research.
The series of studies, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, examined individuals to determine whether self-evaluation plays a role in predicting conspiracy beliefs.
“Previous research linked the endorsement of conspiracy theories to low self-esteem,” said Aleksandra Cichocka, principal investigator and corresponding author of the study.
“We propose that conspiracy theories should rather be appealing to individuals with exaggerated feelings of self-love, such as narcissists, due to their paranoid tendencies,” she continued.
In the first study, 202 participants completed a conspiracy beliefs questionnaire, a self-esteem scale, and an individual narcissism questionnaire. In the conspiracy beliefs questionnaire, participants rated the extent to which they agree with such statements as “A small, secret group of people is responsible for making all major world decisions, such as going to war” and “The American government permits or perpetrates acts of terrorism on its own soil, disguising its involvement.”
Scientists found that among participants, high individual narcissism and low self-esteem significantly predicted conspiracy beliefs.
In the second study, scientists sought to rule out the possibility that collective narcissism contributed to the results of the previous study.
“Because conspiracy theories often refer to malevolent actions of groups, we wanted to distinguish whether it is a narcissistic image of the self or the group that predicts the endorsement of conspiracy theories,” said Cichocka.
“For example . . .