Guide Psychology and Politics: And other Essays: Volume 137 (International Library of Psychology)

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Studies in Ancient Philosophy

Other Popular Editions of the Same Title. Some studies have attempted to chart the social characteristics of those prone to conspiracy theories. In the United States, Uscinski and Parent found that higher levels of conspiracy thinking correlate with lower levels of education and lower levels of income. In this study, conspiracy believers were more likely to be male, unmarried, less educated, have lower income, be unemployed, be a member of an ethnic minority group, and have weaker social networks. Other investigations point in particular to the link between conspiracy belief and lower levels of education e.

Two recent investigations have attempted to explain this relationship. Douglas et al. Van Prooijen found support for two additional mediating factors—greater feelings of control and a general doubt that complex problems may have simple solutions. Although neither of these articles have established a causal link between education and conspiracy beliefs, they suggest that education may provide people with a set of cognitive and affective attributes that enable them to resist conspiracy theories.

The causal relationships between conspiracy beliefs and income are also indeterminate. It could be that employers shun those who advocate conspiracy theories or that those who advocate conspiracy theories shun establishment jobs that offer higher pay. For example, Uscinski and Parent found that those with the lowest levels of conspiracy thinking were the most likely to work in the financial industry or for government or the military.

In addition, more research is needed to understand how elite status affects conspiracy theorizing. Nefes , , a, b, has shown that political party members in Turkey endorse or reject conspiracy theories based upon situational and ideological factors. With this said, insiders seem to be the scapegoats of much conspiracy theorizing in Western societies, so it would seem obvious that insiders would tend to reject conspiracy thinking.

Given the stakes, conspiracy theories arise frequently from political events especially when those events stimulate the psychological states linked to conspiracy beliefs, such as low political trust, feelings of powerlessness, uncertainty, and unpredictability.

For example, Einstein and Glick demonstrated that political scandals diminish trust in government, which in turn result in higher levels of conspiracy beliefs see also Moore, Conspiracy beliefs can also be strengthened by exposing participants to redactions in government documents Nyhan et al. However, research demonstrates that certain political convictions are more strongly associated with conspiracy beliefs than others Mancuso et al. Although it is unknown whether conspiracy theorizing may be a result of political ideology, or vice versa, or both, this research suggests that extremist attitudes may be a consequence of conspiracy belief.

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On the other hand, Uscinski and Parent and Uscinski, Klofstad, and Atkinson suggest that levels of conspiracy thinking are stronger among those identifying as independents or with third parties. There exists a strong assumption both within and outside academia that there is evidence for conservatives being more prone to conspiracy theories than liberals. Furthermore, several studies e. How is it possible to integrate these findings? It is also possible, given that much of the research to date has been conducted on American samples during the Obama administration, that situational factors, rather than dispositional factors, affected the discrepancy between conservatives and liberals.

For example, the research by Miller et al. The end result is that researchers may overlook conspiracy theories closer to home.


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An increasing line of research shows that people with different ideologies are likely to interpret the same information differently e. People resort to motivated reasoning when they are presented with facts that contradict their predispositions, and they will interpret new information in such a way as to not disturb their previously held worldviews. However, just as people filter events and circumstances through the lens of their underlying political predispositions i.

In a survey experiment in which researchers attempted to convince Americans of a media conspiracy, Uscinski et al. This holds with predispositions outside politics. Examining letters to the editor of the New York Times spanning —, they found that when a Republican was president, the resonant conspiracy theories tended to accuse Republicans and big business of conspiring, but when a Democrat was in office, the conspiracy theories tended to accuse Democrats and socialists of conspiring. They also found that during declared wars and the Cold War conspiracy theories focused on foreign enemies more than during other times.

Edelson et al. To Uscinski and Parent , Chap. In this way, conspiracy theories are used by vulnerable groups to manage perceived dangers: they are early warning systems that keep watch over the most sensitive areas and prepare solutions to potential attacks. At bottom, conspiracy theories are a form of threat perception, and fears are fundamentally driven by shifts in relative power.

Because defeat and exclusion are their biggest inducements, conspiracy theories are for losers.

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To test this, Smallpage et al. They concluded that conspiracy theories function like calling cards sending clear signals to copartisans. By doing this, conspiracy theories could generate collective action. With this said, more work needs to investigate the effect of conspiracy theories on collective political actions such as voting e. The communication of conspiracy theories is of vital interest to anyone who wants to understand how they are spread, become established, and affect individuals, groups, society, and politics.

In this section, we discuss why people communicate conspiracy theories, the media they use, and the ways in which they communicate those theories. One of the challenges in studying the motives to communicate conspiracy theories is to tease these apart from motives to believe in conspiracy theories. While the psychological, social, and political factors that cause people to believe in conspiracy theories are almost guaranteed to shape the communication of conspiracy theories, much of the research seems to overlook any divergence.

This is a difficult enterprise and as much as possible, we shall concentrate on research that focuses specifically on communication per se. Perceptions of threat were associated with greater expressions of conspiracy theories, and people proposed conspiracy theories in line with their political arguments. In a similar vein, Raab, Ortlieb, Auer, Gunthmann, and Carbon argue that conspiracy theories could be viewed as a way of constructing and communicating a personal set of values and moral feelings, and Klein, Clutton, and Dunn show that anger is a precursor to the sharing of conspiracy theories.

A distinct psychological motivation, with a more social and political flavor, was identified by Franks et al. They argued that conspiracy theories spread as devices for making sense of events that threaten existing worldviews. They draw on social representations theory Moscovici, to argue that conspiracy theories help groups to symbolically cope with threatening events by making abstract risk more concrete and by focusing blame on a set of conspirators.

They further propose that conspiracy theories are communicated as devices to cope with collective trauma. In a more political vein, Sapountzis and Condor argue that conspiracy narratives are used to dispute dominant political and ideological assumptions see also Uscinski, A sample of Greek political party members were asked a series of questions in an interview.

In the interviews, participants were encouraged to talk freely with occasional prompts concerning conflicts in the Balkans. Studies of political messages advocating conspiracy theories about the Islamization of the United Kingdom and Europe and the West more generally articulate the political purposes for which conspiracy theories are used.

They found that these articles promoted conspiracy theories about the intentions of Muslim immigrants to the United Kingdom.


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  • By casting even moderates as part of a conspiracy, the rhetoric is used to represent all Muslims as a potent threat to civic life and to justify radical, exclusionary politics—in this case the mass, forced deportation of Muslims. Rather, they use conspiracy theories to create the ideological conditions for extremism and political violence. Leaving aside the advocacy of particular political objectives, Allen suggests another important communicative motivation for conspiracy theories.

    Allen examined the conspiracy theorizing by rival Palestinian political factions in the occupied West Bank i. The carefully crafted, hedged, and often evasive quality of conventional political discourse Bhatia, ; Clementson, ; Mearsheimer, may strike contemporary audiences as evidence that politicians are concealing secret agendas. Clarke argued that while the Internet may facilitate the rapid spread of more conspiracy theories, this does not mean that it also helps the development of the conspiracy theories.

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    The speed of dissemination may even retard the progress of conspiracy theories into coherent arguments. Clarke further argues that the Internet may be responsible for limiting conspiracy theories since billions of potentially critical voices are available to immediately refute conspiracy claims with evidence. Uscinski et al. First, in Western countries, websites with the most traffic are not devoted to conspiracy theories, and conspiracy theory websites are not highly visited.

    There are many websites dedicated to conspiracy theories, but it is likely that the only people seeking out these websites are those who are already predisposed. Second, in terms of the online information environment, Uscinski and Parent examined news and blog posts over the course of a year to see how the Internet discusses conspiracy theories. Much of the content was negative, suggesting that if one were to simply seek out news from the Internet, one would get a negative vision of conspiracy theories.

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    Third, there is no evidence that people are more prone to conspiracy thinking now than they were prior to the invention of the Internet. Thus, it cannot be asserted that there has been an overall rise in conspiracy theorizing or that the Internet is responsible for such a rise in a straightforward way. Finally, Uscinski et al.