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.