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Perceived lack of control and conspiracy theory beliefs

Psychology Departmental Seminar by Ana Stojanov


Despite conspiracy theory beliefs’ potential to lead to negative outcomes, psychologists have only relatively recently taken a strong interest in their underlying mechanisms. I discuss a particularly common motivational claim about the origin of conspiracy theory beliefs: that they are driven by threats to personal control and present findings from experimental, meta-analytical and naturalistic studies testing the hypothesis that lack of control leads to conspiracy beliefs. Little evidence for the hypothesis was found in the experimental studies, or in the subsequent meta-analysis of all experimental evidence on the subject, although the latter indicated that specific measures of conspiracies are more likely to change in response to control manipulations than are generic measures. Finally, I present findings about how perceived lack of control relates to conspiracy beliefs in two very different settings, both of which are likely to threaten individuals feelings of control: a political crisis over Macedonia’s name change, and series of tornadoes in North America. In the first, I found that participants who had opposed the name change reported stronger conspiracy beliefs than those who had supported it. In the second, participants who had been more seriously affected by the tornadoes reported decreased control, which in turn predicted their conspiracy beliefs, but only for threat-related claims. Tentatively, I conclude that threats to control can motivate conspiracy beliefs, but only under particular conditions, such as when the threat is extreme and a conspiracy theory is available that offers a relevant explanation.

About Ana Stojanov

Ana was born and grew up in Macedonia, but education has taken her all over the world. She graduated from high school in Minnesota, completed master's at University of Cambridge and successfully defended the doctoral dissertation at University of Otago. In her doctoral thesis she used the experimental, metaanalytical and longitudinal method to examine the link between lack of control and conspiracy beliefs. Her broader research interests include psychometrics, cognitive development, and social cognition.

Date Monday, 27 July 2020
Time 12:00pm - 1:00pm
Audience Public
Event Category Sciences
Event Type Departmental Seminar
LocationWilliam James Building, Level 1, Room 103
Contact NamePsychology Department
Contact Phone03 479 7644

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