First semester Master’s student, Kaylie Williams, recently introduced her Master’s thesis titled, Types of Thinking Behind Belief in Conspiracy Theories and Changing Belief in Conspiracies which focuses on what influences people to believe in conspiracies, how to change those beliefs, and the relationship between mental illness, trauma, and conspiracy beliefs. Different types of thinking have been found to influence conspiratorial beliefs, so this project will include analytic thinking and intellectual thinking priming tasks followed by active listening and teaching with evidence therapeutic techniques in an attempt to decrease conspiratorial thinking.
The study will collect data from university students and the broader community virtually through online questionnaires, thinking style priming tasks, and therapeutic interventions. It starts with the survey which measures PTSD symptoms, paranoia, thinking style, self-esteem, antisocial behavior, personality, and general conspiracy beliefs. Participants will then be primed with either a thinking style or engaged in a therapeutic technique. The priming tasks involve reading a passage and completing a series of either “how” tasks or “why” tasks to prompt them to think about how they would go about achieving a goal or why they want to achieve that goal. Participants in the therapeutic technique conditions will engage in either an active listening session where the focus is listening to the participant’s beliefs or teaching with an evidence session focused on explaining why certain conspiracies are not true. There will be a control group and the participants’ levels of general conspiratorial belief will be measured in all before and after the intervention.
Kaylie hopes her research will contribute to our understanding of how thinking styles influence conspiratorial beliefs and motivate the proposal of interventions for those who believe in conspiracies. The results could also lend to an understanding of what types of individuals are most vulnerable to being convinced that conspiracies are true, which benefits the development of specific treatments for maladaptive levels of these beliefs. Belief in conspiracy theories has resulted in individuals and groups of people engaging in violent acts, so strengthening our grasp on the issue could benefit the safety of those affected by these acts and the people whose beliefs cause them. This is a very intriguing project, Kaylie! We look forward to hearing more as it further develops.