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Master manipulators, odd thinkers and psychopaths are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories

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People who believe in the supernatural and those who express manipulative tendencies are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories, reports a new Australian study investigating the 'Dark Triad' of psychological traits: Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism. In a survey of 230 people, the authors report that alongside supernatural thinking, Machiavellian (manipulative) and psychopathic (callous, emotionally detached) traits were the strongest predictors of conspiracy beliefs. However, there was no significant relationship between narcissism and and belief in conspiracy theories. The results shed light on the origins of conspiracy theories and how such beliefs gain traction.

Journal/conference: PLOS One

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0225964

Organisation/s: Federation University Australia

Media Release

From: PLOS

A conspiracy theory refers to an alternative explanation of an event involving a conspirator plot organised by powerful people or organisations. Belief in conspiracy theories is related to negative societal outcomes such as poor medical decisions and a decrease in prosocial behaviour. Given these negative outcomes, researchers have explored predictors of belief in conspiracy theories in an attempt to understand and possibly manage these beliefs.

In the current study, we explored the utility of personality in predicting belief in conspiracy theories. The aim of the current study was to explore the utility of the odd beliefs/magical thinking subtype of schizotypy, Machiavellianism, grandiose narcissism, vulnerable narcissism, primary psychopathy, and secondary psychopathy in predicting belief in conspiracy theories. Participants (N = 230; 44.7% male, 55.3% female) completed an anonymous, confidential online questionnaire which comprised demographics and measures of personality traits and belief in conspiracy theories. The total regression model indicated odd beliefs/magical thinking, trait Machiavellianism, and primary psychopathy were significant, positive predictors of belief in conspiracy theories. No other predictors reached significance.

Results of the current study highlight individuals who might be more susceptible to believing conspiracy theories. Specifically, these results indicate that the individual more likely to believe in conspiracy theories may have unusual patterns of thinking and cognitions, be strategic and manipulative, and display interpersonal and affective deficits.


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