The Psychopathological Antecedents of Conspiracy Belief

Thresher-Andrews, Christopher Thomas. 2020. The Psychopathological Antecedents of Conspiracy Belief. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

A conspiracy theory can be defined as an alternative explanation for an event that reveals the presence of a hidden group with malevolent intent. Conspiracy theories attract themselves to significant world events with political and social ramifications, and attempt to describe them through the lens of a monological belief system that sees conspiracy as the overwhelming explanation for humanity’s struggles. Although the psychological work exploring the various factors associated with conspiracy belief has grown considerably, the literature has only recently moved to experimental designs that aim to explore causal mechanisms. The current thesis, using a psychopathological framework, attempts to contribute to this.

Study 1 found that participants who felt a lack of control showed significantly higher belief in conspiracy theories. Despite this causal link between personal control and conspiracy belief, further analysis in Study 2 raised doubts over the manipulation’s validity.

Studies 3-5 attempted to manipulate feelings of paranoia and measure their effect on conspiracy belief; unfortunately, all three studies failed to significantly increase participants’ paranoid feelings. Study 6 attempted a self-esteem manipulation, which again failed to show a significant effect. Correlational work from this chapter found significant relationships between paranoia and conspiracy theories, but not self-esteem or political orientation.

Finally, Study 7 successfully demonstrated a relationship between delusional ideation and conspiracy belief. A minority of this non-clinical sample exhibited a jumping-to-conclusions bias when measured using the beads task, but this bias was not related to delusional ideation or conspiracy belief. Study 8 found that belief in conspiracy theories was also related to schizotypy and a range of cognitive biases.

To conclude, the thesis discusses the limitations of applying psychopathological models to explain conspiracy theory belief, providing evidence that although conspiracy theories are unlikely to be products of delusion they likely share similar cognitive antecedents.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Conspiracy theories, psychopathological, paranoia, personal control, conspiracist ideation, delusions, delusional ideation, self-esteem, jumping to conclusions, conspiracy belief

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Psychology > Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit (APRU)


31 January 2020

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

03 Jun 2021 13:48

Last Modified:

04 Jun 2021 09:16


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