The psychology of conspiracy theories
Karen Douglas is a professor of Social Psychology at the University of Kent, United Kingdom. Much of her research investigates the antecedents and consequences of belief in conspiracy theories and she has published widely on this topic. She currently serves on the Executive Committee of the European Association of Social Psychology and is a fellow of the Association for Psychological Science. She is an associate editor for the British Journal of Psychology and has also served as editor in chief of the British Journal of Social Psychology, as well as serving as Associate Editor for several other leading social psychology journals. Her research has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, The Leverhulme Trust, and the Australian Research Council.
Abstract: What psychological factors drive the popularity of conspiracy theories that explain
significant events and circumstances as secret plots by powerful and malevolent groups? What are the psychological consequences of adopting these theories? In this talk, I will review research that attempts to answer these questions. This research suggests that belief in conspiracy theories is driven by motives that can be characterized as epistemic (understanding one’s environment), existential (being safe and in control of one’s environment) and social (maintaining a positive image of the self and the social group). However, whether or not these motives are satisfied by conspiracy theories remains an open question. In fact, current research suggests that conspiracy theories may further frustrate, rather than fulfil, these psychological motives.