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Exposure to conspiracy theories can be detrimental for political engagement and environmental campaigns

New research published (14 January) in the British Journal of Psychology has revealed that exposure to conspiracy theories decreases people's intentions to engage in politics and to reduce their carbon footprint.

The research, which was conducted by the University of Kent's Daniel Jolley and Dr Karen Douglas, both experts on the psychology of conspiracy theories, involved two studies.

In the first study, participants were exposed to a range of conspiracy theories concerning government involvement in significant events such as the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Results revealed that exposure to information supporting conspiracy theories reduced participants' intentions to engage in politics, relative to participants who were given information refuting conspiracy theories.

In the second study, participants were exposed to conspiracy theories concerning the issue of climate change. Results revealed that exposure to information supporting the conspiracy theories reduced participants' intentions to reduce their carbon footprint, relative to participants who were given refuting information, or those in a control condition.

In both studies, exposure to information supporting conspiracy theories increased feelings of powerlessness, which in turn decreased participants’ intentions to engage in political and climate change behaviours.

PhD student Daniel Jolley said: ‘Psychologists are learning more about the individual traits associated with beliefs in conspiracy theories and the extent to which conspiracy theories influence people’s attitudes about significant social and political events. However, there is a need to understand what these beliefs entail.’

Dr Douglas added: ‘Our studies demonstrate that wariness about conspiracy theories may indeed be warranted. We provide evidence that exposure to conspiracy theories can potentially have important social consequences. Our findings open up a new line of research investigating the consequences of an ever-growing climate of conspiracism.’

'The social consequences of conspiracism: exposure to conspiracy theories decreases intentions to engage in politics and to reduce one’s carbon footprint’ is published by The British Journal of Psychology early view. It can be viewed at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/bjop.12018/pdf



Contact: pressoffice@kent.ac.uk

Story published at 9:12am 18 January 2013

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Last Updated: 23/05/2013