Monthly Archives: September 2022

Kaylie Williams: Master’s Thesis Update

Kaylie Williams, a second-year Master’s student, recently gave a presentation on her thesis progress. The purpose of the study titled “Psychological Mechanisms Behind Belief in Conspiracy Theories and Changing Conspiratorial Belief”, includes identifying individual differences that influence people to believe in conspiracies and how to change people’s belief in conspiracies through thinking style.

Williams hypothesized that (1) PTSD symptoms, antisocial personality traits, vaccine hesitancy, openness to experience, and general thinking style will correlate with conspiracy beliefs (hypotheses A-E correlating with each variable mentioned), and (2) participants primed to think more concretely will report lower belief in conspiracy theories, while those primed to think more abstractly will report higher belief in conspiracy theories. 355 adults living in the U.S. were recruited for the online study with 288 passing attention checks. Items measured in the study were conspiratorial belief, antisocial behavior, personality surrounding the Big Five, screening for PTSD, public attitude toward vaccination, and thinking style (Analytic, Abstract, and Concrete Thinking).

After the analysis of the data, hypothesis 1 showed no significant relationship between PTSD and conspiracy beliefs (1.A), antisocial traits and conspiracy beliefs (1.B), openness to experience and conspiracy beliefs (1.C), and no significant relationship was found between general vaccine hesitancy and conspiracy beliefs for hypothesis 1.D. However, COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy revealed a slight significant correlation with belief in conspiracies. This result is particularly interesting because COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy was driven by conspiracies themselves which may have arisen due to the novelty of the COVID-19 pandemic & vaccine along with isolation and anxiety from the pandemic. Lastly, hypothesis 1.E showed no significant relationships between external, conservative, and global thinking styles and belief in conspiracies. However, post hoc analyses revealed internal and liberal thinking styles both had small, positive correlations with conspiracy beliefs, while local thinking styles did not reveal a significant correlation with belief in conspiracies. Williams discusses how those who believe in conspiracies may refute outside information, and only base their beliefs on their own thinking rather than allowing outside forces to influence their beliefs, and that novelty is valued within liberal thinking styles.

Limitations of the study were pointed out by Williams surrounding online & self-report measures, the college sample, and the potential for dishonest answers. Also, the study was limited to the U.S. which could influence thinking styles. Potential future directions with this research include adding the Dichotomous Thinking Inventory, a new openness measure, a new trauma measure, and the possibility to force a response to political affiliation.

We are so excited to see Kaylie progress through her Master’s thesis on this fascinating topic and complete data analysis for hypothesis 2. Congratulations on a job well done!

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FF-PTG Lab Staff 2022-2023

The FF-PTG Lab is excited to begin its educational endeavors this fall semester. Welcome, new members! And, welcome back, returning members!

Top row (left to right): Natalie Safo, Dominic Turcott, Taylor Elma, Isabelle Teasel, Amani Qaqish, Kayla Benson, Kaylie Williams

Bottom row: Dr. Kanako Taku, Amber Efthemiou, Paxton Hicks, Lazo Dordeski, Lewis Luttrell

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Kayla Benson: Thesis Defense Update

Kayla Benson, a third-year Ph.D. student, recently gave a presentation in preparation for her thesis defense. The purposes of Benson’s study, “Growing Toward the Common Good: Collective Action Engagement as Evidence for Posttraumatic Growth”, include understanding the collective action behaviors as an indication of action-focused growth and constructive posttraumatic growth [PTG] and the relationships between community identity and collective action. The study will also strive to evaluate narcissism and optimism as potential components restricting constructive PTG.

Benson hypothesizes (1) people who are high in PTG will engage in more collective action interventions overall; (2) When individuals believe that their identities are strongly connected to the community, they will engage in more collective action behaviors; and (3) individuals who display patterns of illusory growth (high PTG, low in collective action) will be higher in narcissism and/or optimism. A total of 168 participants ranging from the ages of 18 to 47 years old (M=20.21, SD=3.19) participated in the study. The items that were measured in the online survey were posttraumatic growth, narcissism, optimism, altruism, social identity, and COVID-19 collective action.

After the completion of data analysis, hypothesis 1 of those who report PTG in response to events high in event centrality (constructive growth) will report more collective action behaviors than those who report PTG following low centrality events (illusory growth) was not supported. However, if using altruism as the outcome, the first hypothesis is partially supported, since constructive growth is higher than the low PTG group but no different from the illusory group. Hypothesis 2, narcissism and/or optimism will be higher in participants defined as having illusory growth, was not supported. It is important to note that the results were consistent with the literature that PTG is positively associated with optimism.

Hypothesis 3, individuals defined as experiencing constructive growth will engage in more mask-wearing when not required by a local mandate, was not supported. In fact, there were no differences found between groups in terms of masking when it was not required. It was found through additional correlation analysis that narcissism and a sense of community had small correlations with masking when it was no longer required.

Benson states the limitations of the study include: data collections initiating 1.5 years after the start of the pandemic, college student [only] sample, measurement error with the ‘COVID-19 Collective Action’ variable, study format, and the definitions of constructive versus illusory growth. There are potential future directions with the data which could investigate the interesting patterns recognized through Benson’s study. For example, there could be an examination of the four types of identity relating to other individual differences in numerous ways or further exploration of the PTG subscale could be performed.

Congratulations on the completion of the “Growth Toward the Common Good: Collective Action Engagement as Evidence for Posttraumatic Growth”, Kayla! We are eagerly awaiting your defense presentation in the upcoming months.

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Psychology Department 2022 Distinguished Lecture

The Psychology Department is hosting the event, Distinguished Lecture 2022.

The following discussions are scheduled the next day, September 29th (Thursday) at 5pm.

If you would like to have zoom invites, please email to Kana Taku at

Questions? Please email to Kana Taku at

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