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Suspicious binds: Conspiracy thinking and tenuous perceptions of causal connections between co?occurring and spuriously correlated events

van der Wal, Reine, Sutton, Robbie M., Lange, Jens, Braga, João (2018) Suspicious binds: Conspiracy thinking and tenuous perceptions of causal connections between co?occurring and spuriously correlated events. European Journal of Social Psychology, . ISSN 0046-2772. (doi:10.1002/ejsp.2507)

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Abstract

Previous research indicates that conspiracy thinking is informed by the psychological imposition of order and meaning on the environment, including the perception of causal relations between random events. Four studies indicate that conspiracy belief is driven by readiness to draw implausible causal connections even when events are not random, but instead conform to an objective pattern. Study 1 (N = 195) showed that conspiracy belief was related to the causal interpretation of real?life, spurious correlations (e.g., between chocolate consumption and Nobel prizes). In Study 2 (N = 216), this effect held adjusting for correlates including magical and non?analytical thinking. Study 3 (N = 214) showed that preference for conspiracy explanations was associated with the perception that a focal event (e.g., the death of a journalist) was causally connected to similar, recent events. Study 4 (N = 211) showed that conspiracy explanations for human tragedies were favoured when they comprised part of a cluster of similar events (vs. occurring in isolation); crucially, they were independently increased by a manipulation of causal perception. We discuss the implications of these findings for previous, mixed findings in the literature and for the relation between conspiracy thinking and other cognitive processes.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1002/ejsp.2507
Uncontrolled keywords: conspiracy theories, spurious correlation, pattern perception, causality, causal inference
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Divisions: Faculties > Social Sciences > School of Psychology
Faculties > Social Sciences > School of Psychology > Social Psychology
Depositing User: Robbie Sutton
Date Deposited: 18 May 2018 09:14 UTC
Last Modified: 29 May 2019 20:34 UTC
Resource URI: https://kar.kent.ac.uk/id/eprint/67082 (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
van der Wal, Reine: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2024-4403
Sutton, Robbie M.: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1542-1716
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