New research involving University psychologist Professor Karen Douglas shows that exposure to conspiracy theories can intensify prejudice towards minority groups.
The research, published on 14 March in the British Psychological Society’s British Journal of Psychology, was carried out by chartered BPS member Dr Daniel Jolley from Staffordshire University and Dr Rose Meleady from the University of East Anglia as well as Professor Douglas, from Kent’s School of Psychology.
It involved three studies carried out to examine the effect of exposure to conspiracy theories on people’s attitudes towards minority groups.
In the first study, participants were exposed to one of three stories; a conspiracy story about immigrants’ involvement in terrorist organisations and their plots to attack Britain from within, an anti-conspiracy narrative or a neutral narrative.
When tested afterwards, participants who had been exposed to the conspiracy story held more conspiracy beliefs and expressed more prejudice towards immigrants.
In the second and third studies, participants were again exposed to pro-conspiracy, anti-conspiracy or neutral information. This time it concerned Jewish people, and the participants in both studies who had been exposed to the pro-conspiracy story held more conspiracy beliefs and expressed more prejudice towards Jewish people.
Participants also completed a measure to gauge their feelings towards a number of other groups, such as people of different nationalities, ethnicities and social position.
The researchers found that the participants who had been exposed to the anti-Jewish conspiracy material expressed greater prejudice towards these other groups as well as towards Jewish people.
Professor Douglas said: ‘Our research demonstrated that exposure to conspiracy theories about groups can increase prejudice and discrimination. We would suggest that efforts to reduce prejudice and defuse negative intergroup relations should, therefore, consider the contribution of popular and pervasive conspiracy theories.’
The research was entitled Exposure to intergroup conspiracy theories promotes prejudice which spreads across groups.