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

Reine C. van der Wal*, Robbie M. Sutton, Jens Lange, João P. N. Braga

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)
1 Downloads

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 favored 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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)970-989
Number of pages20
JournalEuropean Journal of Social Psychology
Volume48
Issue number7
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018

Keywords

  • Causality
  • Conspiracy belief
  • Pattern perception
  • Spurious correlation

Fingerprint

Dive into the research topics of 'Suspicious binds: conspiracy thinking and tenuous perceptions of causal connections between co-occurring and spuriously correlated events'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this