Who is likely to believe in conspiracy theories?

political conspiracies, especially if they also lacked accurate knowledge of political phenomena,” she adds.

The findings, detailed in “The Illusion of Explanatory Depth and Endorsement of Conspiracy Beliefs,” were published 12 May in the European Journal of Social Psychology.

“Our findings might suggest that showing people the limitations of their understanding can lead to more informed, evidence-based opinions and beliefs,” said Vitriol. “The good thing is people can do this on their own—by proactively seeking out and exposing oneself to information and perspectives that challenges their beliefs, one stands to gain a more objective and credible understanding of the world.”

Endorsing political conspiracies

In a separate study published in April, Vitriol found that system identity threat, or one’s perception that society’s fundamental, defining values are under siege due to social change, can also predict conspiracy thinking. The study surveys 3,500 adult, U.S. citizens.

The findings, also published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, show that people who agreed with statements such as, “In this country, there is a ‘real America’ distinct from those who don’t share the same values” and “America’s greatest values are increasingly decaying from within,” were more likely to agree with statements such as, “The media is the puppet of those in power” and “Nothing in politics or world affairs happens by accident or coincidence.”

The study, “The Role of System Identity Threat in Conspiracy Theory Endorsement,” was authored by Vitriol and University of Minnesota, Twin Cities professors Christopher M. Federico and Allison L. Williams.

“We found that when one feels that society’s fundamental, defining values are under siege,” Vitriol says, “it is a strong predictor of a general tendency toward conspiracy thinking and endorsement of both ideological and nonideological conspiracy theories.

Vitriol encourages people to practice humility and to rely upon credible, evidence-based perspectives and diverse sources across the ideological spectrum to inform their understanding of current events and public affairs.

He says, “Challenge yourself with information inconsistent with your assumptions and beliefs, learn about the experiences and perspectives that differ from your own, and remember that extraordinary and overly simplistic explanations for complex events may very well be inaccurate, even if it resonates with your intuitions.”

— Read more in Joseph A. Vitriol and Jessecae K. Marsh. “The Illusion of Explanatory Depth and Endorsement of Conspiracy Beliefs,” European Journal of Social Psychology (12 May 2018) (DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.2504); and Christopher M. Federico et al., “The role of system identity threat in conspiracy theory endorsement,” European Journal of Social Psychology (18 April 2018) (DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.2495)