Skip to main content

Is the label "conspiracy theory" a cause or a consequence of disbelief in alternative narratives?

Douglas, Karen, van Prooijen, Jan-Willem, Sutton, Robbie M. (2021) Is the label "conspiracy theory" a cause or a consequence of disbelief in alternative narratives? British Journal of Psychology, . ISSN 0007-1269. E-ISSN 2044-8295. (doi:10.1111/bjop.12548) (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:92188)

PDF Author's Accepted Manuscript
Language: English

Restricted to Repository staff only until 16 December 2022.
Contact us about this Publication
[thumbnail of Douglas et al BJP labelling and conspiracy theories.pdf]
Official URL:


Using the label “conspiracy theory” is widely perceived to be a way of discrediting wild ideas and unsubstantiated claims. However, prior research suggests that labelling statements as conspiracy theories does not reduce people’s belief in them. In four studies, we probed this effect further, and tested the alternative hypothesis that the label “conspiracy theory” is a consequence rather than a cause of (dis)belief in conspiracy-related statements. Replicating prior research, Study 1 (N = 170) yielded no evidence that the label “conspiracy theory” affects belief in statements. In Study 2 (N = 199), we discovered that the less people believed in statements, the more they favoured labelling them as “conspiracy theories”. In Studies 3 and 4 (Ns = 150 and 151), we manipulated the relative believability of statements and found that participants preferred the label “conspiracy theory” for relatively less believable vs. more believable statements. The current research therefore supports the hypothesis that prior (dis)agreement with a statement affects use of the label “conspiracy theory” more than the other way around.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1111/bjop.12548
Uncontrolled keywords: Conspiracy theory, Conspiracy theories, Stigmatised beliefs, Labelling
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Psychology
Depositing User: Karen Douglas
Date Deposited: 07 Dec 2021 15:03 UTC
Last Modified: 23 Mar 2022 14:00 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
Douglas, Karen:
Sutton, Robbie M.:
  • Depositors only (login required):


Downloads per month over past year