Someone is pulling the strings: hypersensitive agency detection and belief in conspiracy theories

Karen M. Douglas, Robbie M. Sutton, Mitchell J. Callan, Rael J. Dawtry, Annelie J. Harvey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

58 Citations (Scopus)
208 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

We hypothesised that belief in conspiracy theories would be predicted by the general tendency to attribute agency and intentionality where it is unlikely to exist. We further hypothesised that this tendency would explain the relationship between education level and belief in conspiracy theories, where lower levels of education have been found to be associated with higher conspiracy belief. In Study 1 (N = 202) participants were more likely to agree with a range of conspiracy theories if they also tended to attribute intentionality and agency to inanimate objects. As predicted, this relationship accounted for the link between education level and belief in conspiracy theories. We replicated this finding in Study 2 (N = 330), whilst taking into account beliefs in paranormal phenomena. These results suggest that education may undermine the reasoning processes and assumptions that are reflected in conspiracy belief.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-77
Number of pages21
JournalThinking & Reasoning
Volume22
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2016

Keywords

  • Conspiracy theories
  • Education
  • Hypersensitive agency detection
  • Intentionality bias
  • Paranormal beliefs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Philosophy
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)

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