The 3 Reasons People Believe in Conspiracy Theories

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4m May 5, 2021

The new science of the psychology of conspiracy theories has discovered the three motivations that lead people to believe in conspiracy theories — epistemic, existential and social motivations.
The epistemic motivations refer to the discomfort with uncertainty and conflicting information. The existential is the motivation to deal with feelings of anxiety and powerlessness and the social is to do with feeling good about self or the in-group. These are the three categories of motivations that have been found in the psychology of conspiracy theories.

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Primary Paper:
Douglas, K.M., Sutton, R.M. and Cichocka, A., 2017. The psychology of conspiracy theories. Current directions in psychological science, 26(6), pp.538-542.

Other references:
Abalakina-Paap, M., Stephan, W. G., Craig, T., & Gregory, L. (1999). Beliefs in conspiracies. Political Psychology, 20, 637–647.
Bruder, M., Haffke, P., Neave, N., Nouripanah, N., & Imhoff, R. (2013). Measuring individual differences in generic beliefs in conspiracy theories across cultures: Conspiracy Mentality Questionnaire. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, Article 225. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00225
Cichocka, A., Marchlewska, M., & Golec de Zavala, A. (2016). Does self-love or self-hate predict conspiracy beliefs? Narcissism, self-esteem, and the endorsement of conspiracy theories. Social Psychological & Personality Science, 7, 157–166.
Crocker, J., Luhtanen, R., Broadnax, S., & Blaine, B. E. (1999). Belief in U.S. government conspiracies against Blacks among Black and White college students: Powerlessness or system blame? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25, 941–953.

Douglas, K. M., & Leite, A. C. (2017). Suspicion in the workplace: Organizational conspiracy theories and workrelated outcomes. British Journal of Psychology, 108, 486–506.

Goertzel, T. (1994). Belief in conspiracy theories. Political Psychology, 15, 731–742.

Grzesiak-Feldman, M. (2013). The effect of high-anxiety situations on conspiracy thinking. Current Psychology, 32, 100–118.

Imhoff, R. and Lamberty, P.K., 2017. Too special to be duped: Need for uniqueness motivates conspiracy beliefs. European journal of social psychology, 47(6), pp.724-734.

Imhoff, R., & Bruder, M. (2014). Speaking (un-)truth to power: Conspiracy mentality as a generalised political attitude. European Journal of Personality, 28, 25–43.

Jolley, D., & Douglas, K. M. (2014a). The effects of antivaccine conspiracy theories on vaccination intentions. PLOS ONE, 9(2), Article e89177. doi:10.1371/journal .pone.0089177

Jolley, D., & Douglas, K. M. (2014b). The social consequences of conspiracism: Exposure to conspiracy theories decreases the intention to engage in politics and to reduce one’s carbon footprint. British Journal of Psychology, 105, 35–56.
Leman, P. J., & Cinnirella, M. (2013). Beliefs in conspiracy theories and the need for cognitive closure. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, Article 378. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00378
Tetlock, P. E. (2002). Social-functionalist frameworks for judgment and choice: The intuitive politician, theologian, and prosecutor. Psychological Review, 109, 451–472.
Uscinski, J. E., & Parent, J. M. (2014). American conspiracy theories. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

van Prooijen, J.-W., & Acker, M. (2015). The influence of control on belief in conspiracy theories: Conceptual and applied extensions. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 29, 753–761.
van Prooijen, J.-W., & Jostmann, N. B. (2013). Belief in conspiracy theories: The influence of uncertainty and perceived morality. European Journal of Social Psychology, 43, 109–115.

#psychology #thelivingphilosophy #conspiracy #epistemology #psychologyofconspiracy

Table of Contents

Timecode Title
0:00 Introduction
0:29 1. Epistemic Motivations
2:22 2. Existential Motivations
5:12 3. Social Motivations
7:57 Conclusion

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