Thesis season is here at the FF-PTG Lab! Kaylie Williams, a Master’s student, defended her thesis on conspiracy beliefs and different thinking styles. Conspiracy beliefs are alternatives to widely believed explanations for an event. These conspiracy beliefs often assume that one explanation is staged and often is done to harm others. The ways in which people think would influence how they interpret and begin to believe, the information provided by a conspiracy belief. In Kaylie’s research, different thinking styles were used to attempt to change the way people think about conspiracies. These thinking styles were measured in order to observe which are consistent with conspiracy beliefs. Some of the thinking styles included In her experiment, abstract and concrete thinking were used in an attempt to influence an individual’s conspiracy beliefs. It was hypothesized that abstract thinking would show increased conspiracy beliefs. As for concrete thinking the opposite would be true. In general, as well individuals higher in the following were hypothesized to show higher conspiracy beliefs as well: symptoms of PTSD, antisocial behaviors, vaccine hesitancy, low medical trust, paranoia, and more openness to experience.
Of the many hypotheses, there were a couple that was either fully or partially supported. The first of which is medical trust and vaccine hesitancy. The medical trust had a significant negative correlation with conspiracy beliefs. Unfortunately, the same was not found for vaccine hesitancy. The rationale is that vaccine hesitancy may have measured individuals more cautious of the vaccine rather than outright believing conspiracies related to the vaccine. As seen in previous research, Kaylie was able to replicate the positive relationship between paranoia and conspiracy beliefs. The thinking styles did not influence individuals’ conspiracy beliefs with every thinking style intervention resulting in higher conspiracy beliefs. This may not have in fact been the fault of the experiment, but survey fatigue. With how many measures were used for the first portion of the experiment it may have caused participants to become tired and lose focus. This fatigue, rather than the experiment’s priming, may have had a stronger influence on the participant’s responses for the second portion. Kaylie plans to collect more data to address the issue with the priming used in this experiment. Other limitations include the sample being a college sample, and only with individuals in the USA, the fact that this was an online survey and potentially dishonest answers from the participants. Hopefully, by addressing this issue we can see if the priming is successful, and how the different thinking styles may affect believing in conspiracies. We are excited for your next round of collecting data and wish you the best Kaylie!