Conspiracy theories: why they are believed and how they can be challenged

Sebalo, Ivan orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-2930-920X, Ball, Linden orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-5099-0124, Marsh, John Everett orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-9494-1287, Morley, Andy M orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-1942-1983, Richardson, Beth Helen orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-8738-9925, Taylor, Paul John orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-9999-8397 and Threadgold, Emma orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-9073-0669 (2023) Conspiracy theories: why they are believed and how they can be challenged. Journal of Cognitive Psychology . pp. 1-18. ISSN 2044-5911

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The current study aimed: (i) to identify personal characteristics associated with endorsing conspiracy theories; and (ii) to investigate methods for dispelling conspiracy beliefs. Participants were shown a single conspiracy theory and they also completed questionnaires about their reasoning skills, types of information processing (System 1 vs. System 2), endorsement of paranormal beliefs, locus of control and pattern perception. To challenge the endorsement of the conspiracy, participants read either: (i) neutral information; (ii) a critical analysis of the vignette; (iii) a critical analysis of the vignette with discussion of realistic consequences; or (iv) a critical analysis of the vignette with “feeling of control” priming. Only addressing the consequences of the conspiracy theory decreased its endorsement. Furthermore, only type of information processing and belief in paranormal phenomena, were associated with endorsement of the conspiracy. These findings are discussed in relation to previous studies and theories of conspiratorial ideation.

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