Measurement Issues and the Role of Cognitive Biases in Conspiracist Ideation

Brotherton, Robert A.. 2013. Measurement Issues and the Role of Cognitive Biases in Conspiracist Ideation. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Conspiracy theories are a prominent feature of contemporary culture, and can have far-reaching consequences for believers and disbelievers alike. Until recently, however, relatively little research has examined the psychological origins of conspiracist beliefs. A growing amount of research has now begun to reveal the personality, motivational, cognitive, and social factors associated with belief in conspiracy theories. The current thesis aims to contribute to this literature in two main ways.

First, the existing literature is limited by the lack of a validated measurement device. Aiming to address this need, Chapter 2 details the creation of a novel measure of conspiracist ideation, the Generic Conspiracist Beliefs (GCB) scale, from item selection (Study 1) through to psychometric validation (Studies 2, 3, and 4). This measure assesses generic conspiracist ideation, therefore offering greater practical utility and theoretical validity than existing measures which assess endorsement of conspiracy theories based on specific world events.

Second, the literature may benefit from incorporating conspiracism into the wider theoretical framework of anomalistic psychology. Chapters 3 and 4 employ the newly created GCB to investigate the role of representativeness heuristics – according to which claims are judged plausible to the extent that they subjectively appear typical of events in general – in conspiracist ideation. Study 5a predicted that the proportionality bias would influence novel conspiracist attributions; however, the data did not support this hypothesis. Study 5b predicted that susceptibility to the conjunction fallacy would be associated with conspiracist ideation. This hypothesis was supported. Finally, Chapter 4 predicted that conspiracist ideation would be associated with biased attributions of intentionality. Support for this hypothesis was mixed; the findings suggest that an inferential bias towards attributions of intentionality predicts conspiracist ideation, but a perceptual bias does not. In sum, the findings suggest that conspiracist beliefs may be a product, in part, of certain representativeness biases.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)


anomalistic psychology; conspiracy theories; biases and heuristics; individual differences

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Date Deposited:

27 Jun 2014 09:29

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 09:01


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