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What are conspiracy theories? A definitional approach to their correlates, consequences and communication

Douglas, Karen, Sutton, Robbie M. (2023) What are conspiracy theories? A definitional approach to their correlates, consequences and communication. Annual Review Of Psychology, 74 (1). pp. 271-298. ISSN 0066-4308. (doi:10.1146/annurev-psych-032420-031329) (KAR id:96266)

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Conspiracy theories are abundant in social and political discourse with serious consequences for individuals, groups and societies. However, psychological scientists have only started paying them close attention in the past 20 years. In this article, we review the spectacular progress that has since been made, some of the limitations of research so far, and consider the prospects for further progress. To this end, we take a step back to analyze the essential, defining features that make conspiracy theories different in kind from other beliefs, and different in degree from each other. We consider how these features determine the adoption, consequences, and transmission of belief in conspiracy theories, even though their role as causal or moderating variables has seldom been examined in theory or research. We therefore advocate for a theoretical and research agenda in the study of conspiracy theories that starts—as is routine in fields such as virology and toxicology—with a robust descriptive analysis of the ontology of the entity at its center.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1146/annurev-psych-032420-031329
Uncontrolled keywords: Conspiracy theories, conspiracy beliefs, predictors, consequences, communication, theory
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Psychology
Funders: European Research Council (
Depositing User: Karen Douglas
Date Deposited: 17 Aug 2022 19:20 UTC
Last Modified: 18 Apr 2023 11:49 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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