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Many roads to conspiracy theory belief

A recent study published by the American Psychological Association suggests that belief in conspiracy theories can be influenced by a combination of personality traits and motivations. The research highlights the importance of understanding the underlying psychology behind conspiratorial thinking and explores factors such as intuition, antagonism, superiority, and perceived threats in relation to conspiracy beliefs.

Belief in conspiracy theories can be influenced by a variety of factors, including personality traits and motivations, according to research published by the American Psychological Association. The study aimed to provide a comprehensive understanding of what drives individuals to believe in conspiracy theories by examining personality traits and motivational factors together.

Lead author Shauna Bowes, a doctoral student in clinical psychology at Emory University, emphasized that conspiracy theorists are not necessarily mentally unwell or simple-minded individuals, as often portrayed in popular culture. Instead, many turn to conspiracy theories as a way to fulfill their unmet motivational needs and make sense of distressing situations.

To arrive at a more unified account of the factors driving belief in conspiracy theories, the researchers analyzed data from 170 studies involving over 158,000 participants from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Poland. The studies measured participants’ motivations or personality traits associated with conspiratorial thinking.

The findings revealed that people are motivated to believe in conspiracy theories in order to understand and feel safe in their environment, as well as to establish a sense of superiority within their identified community. While conspiracy theories may offer a sense of clarity or hidden truths, the need for closure or control was not the strongest motivator. Instead, the researchers found that social relationships and perceived social threats played a significant role in endorsing specific conspiracy theories.

The study also identified certain personality traits associated with a higher likelihood of believing in conspiracy theories. Individuals with a sense of antagonism, high levels of paranoia, and specific characteristics such as insecurity, emotional volatility, impulsiveness, suspicion, withdrawal, manipulativeness, egocentrism, and eccentricity were more prone to believing in conspiracies.

The researchers noted that the Big Five personality traits (extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism) had a weaker relationship with conspiratorial thinking. However, they emphasized that this does not imply that general personality traits are irrelevant to the tendency to believe in conspiracy theories.

Shauna Bowes suggested that future research should take into account the complexity of conspiratorial thinking and explore the diverse variables that contribute to the relationship between motivation, personality, and conspiratorial beliefs. Understanding the underlying psychology behind conspiratorial ideas can provide valuable insights into this phenomenon.

The research article, “The Conspiratorial Mind: A Meta-Analytic Review of Motivational and Personological Correlates,” was authored by Shauna Bowes, Arber Tasimi, and Thomas Costello and was published in Psychological Bulletin on June 26, 2023.

Contact: For further information, Shauna Bowes can be reached at [email protected].

Takeaway

  1. Belief in conspiracy theories is influenced by a combination of personality traits and motivations, according to research published by the American Psychological Association. People who rely strongly on intuition, feel antagonism and superiority toward others, and perceive threats in their environment are more prone to believing in conspiracies.
  2. The study challenges the notion that conspiracy theorists are simple-minded or mentally unwell individuals. Instead, many turn to conspiracy theories to fulfill unmet motivational needs and make sense of distressing situations.
  3. The research analyzed data from 170 studies involving over 158,000 participants and found that motivations for believing in conspiracy theories include a need for understanding, a desire for safety, and a need to feel superior to others within their identified community. Social relationships and perceived social threats were identified as key factors influencing specific conspiracy beliefs.
  4. Certain personality traits, such as antagonism, high levels of paranoia, and characteristics like insecurity, emotional volatility, impulsiveness, suspicion, withdrawal, manipulativeness, egocentrism, and eccentricity, were associated with a higher likelihood of believing in conspiracy theories. The study also noted a weaker relationship between the Big Five personality traits and conspiratorial thinking.



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