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Belief in Conspiracy Theories Linked With High Stress Levels

People with high stress levels might be more likely to believe in conspiracy theories, says a new study published in Personality and Individual Differences.


The Internet has shown how conspiracy theories are everywhere. Some people just cannot help but come up with weird explanations entailing great ‘conspiracies’. A team of researchers from Anglia Ruskin University from the UK attempted to study this, and had 420 volunteers sign up to participate. The latter were asked about several conspiracy theories (is there any dearth of them?), and their anxiety levels were recorded; they also had to mention any stressful event that had occurred to them in the past 6 months.

Upon evaluating the data, the researchers found that both those with a greater perceived level of stress and those reporting a higher number of stressful events tended to have a stronger belief in conspiracy stories. Bear in mind that the researchers only found an association without having established whether more stress actually caused people to be more open to believing such theories. Nor was it confirmed if it was the other way around, that is, if belief in such stories would cause people to be more stressed.

Otherwise, lead author, social psychologist Viren Swami, explains that stress will make one more likely to think less analytically such that the person experiencing the condition might start to see things in a particular way; Swami mentions how some people can see patterns that do not exist when they are going through stressful situations. So, in this way, stressful events might pave the way to the inclination of developing a mindset focused on conspiracy theories. She adds that once this way of thinking is rooted in a person’s mind, he might become more prone to getting into other conspiracy stories.

Another interpretation of the results is that stressful situations could be stimulating people to take control over their affairs, and this behaviour would branch out into seeking conspiracy theories.

Yet another possible link the researchers found involved age. Apparently, younger people have a greater risk to tend to conspiracy theories as opposed to older ones.

I know what you must be thinking, that the matter is, in fact, plain and simple: people who are less intelligent are those to fall into these tendencies. Well, you’re not wrong. Some studies have found links between this propensity and below-average intelligence. Other factors that might be at play are low self-esteem, political beliefs, and not trusting authorities.


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