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!