Paper: How paranoid are conspiracy believers?

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Conspiracy theorist's are generally not any more paranoid than average. It's a common mistake to treat conspiracy theorists as if they are mentally ill, or have some kind of intellectual disability. New research from Imhoff and Lamberty reinforces this. They conclude we would more effectively address the problem of false conspiracy theorizing by "de-pathologizing" the conspiracy mentality and instead viewing it as a "generalized political attitude".

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ejsp.2494


How paranoid are conspiracy believers? Towards a more fine‐grained understanding of the connect and disconnect between paranoia and belief in conspiracy theories

...

Across one meta-analysis and two novel studies, we provided a more fine-grained perspective on the association between paranoid and belief in conspiracy theories. First, we established comprehensive evidence for a moderate correlation between .29 (latent correlation in Study 2) and .38 (meta-analytic estimate and latent correlation in Study 3), while also establishing discriminant validity with a multitrait- multi-method approach in Studies 2 and 3. Thus, there is an association between the two but they are not identical.

More importantly, they also have markedly different associates. Although both belief in conspiracy theories and paranoia have been associated with attributional biases, low trust and control deprivation, our studies suggest that these seemingly impressive commonalities might conceal more than they reveal, as it has to be specified who is the relevant target of attributional biases, low trust and in which domain control deprivation is experienced. Specifically, conspiracy beliefs were associated with an attribution of all evil to powerful people, whereas paranoia predicted attribution to people in general. Likewise, conspiracy beliefs were associated with decreased trust in the government but not so much in people in general, and vice versa for paranoia. In line with the characterization of paranoia as “self-relevant suspicious and distrustful beliefs” (Van Prooijen & van Lange, 2014; p. 240; emphasis added), it was reliably associated with perceived lack of control particularly in the personal and interpersonal domain. In marked contrast, people who endorse conspiracy theories particularly feel that they cannot influence or control what is happening on a societal level (as here, a sinister group of conspirators makes the calls), but may have no such or less perceived deficiencies in controlling their personal immediate environment.

In light of this distinction, it seems worthwhile to reassess what actually constitutes a conspirational mindset. As one of the most robust findings in the psychology of conspiracy beliefs, there seems to be a coherent tendency to either believe or disbelieve conspiracy theories of various kinds, a monological belief system (Goertzel, 1994), conspiracy mentality (Imhoff & Bruder, 2014; Moscovici, 1987), a conspiracist ideation (Swami et al., 2011). We would argue that our results are in line with the notion of conspiracy mentality as a generalized political attitude (Imhoff & Bruder, 2014), a set of convictions about the state of the political arena, not an expression of some underlying psychopathology.

De-pathologizing conspiracy beliefs by understanding them as a political attitude rather than a delusional ideation does – of course – not imply veracity of any, let alone all kinds of conspiracy theories. At the same time, it implies leaving the convenient position of labelling any kind of assertion untrue as soon as it implies a conspiracy. Clearly, in the political, social and economic realms, many important decisions are being made behind closed curtains, sometimes by secret coordination.
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deirdre

Senior Member.
and instead viewing it as a "generalized political attitude".

We would argue that our results are in line with the notion of conspiracy mentality as a generalized political attitude (Imhoff & Bruder, 2014), a set of convictions about the state of the political arena, not an expression of some underlying psychopathology.

sounds like semantics. some liberals claim conservatives are paranoid about gay marriage because they are homophobic, etc. I could give multiple examples from both political camps of attributing political attitude to mental illness, but i'll assume this isn't necessary. I can admit I am somewhat paranoid when it comes to liberals and some of their ideas.

As far as CTs not being paranoid about everyone, perhaps it is like selective mutism.. selective paranoia.
 

DasKleineTeilchen

Active Member
As far as CTs not being paranoid about everyone, perhaps it is like selective mutism.. selective paranoia.
“All through my life I've had this strange unaccountable feeling that something was going on in the world, something big, even sinister, and no one would tell me what it was."

"No," said the old man, "that's just perfectly normal paranoia. Everyone in the Universe has that.”

― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
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Keith Beachy

Senior Member
Conspiracy theorists are skeptics, gullible skeptics (gullible). Skeptical of facts and evidence, skeptical of the 'official story'. That might work with the paper.
 

Luc The Lurker

New Member
stop spouting fake news - I am a very expensive liberal!!
Speak for yourself, if someone wants to pay me to shill, I'll consider any offer.

I always thought certain CT were due to paranoia from falling down the hole, mainly the anti-vaxx movement who seem to think everyone is out to give their kids autism or a disease. Where as CT such as the moon landing hoax people just have a lack of education/research outside of the conspiracy. We only remember the [most extreme cases].
 
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Critical Thinker

Senior Member.
Just for clarification of the term paranoid & paranoia, from the Oxford English dictionary:

Paranoid


Characterized by or suffering from the mental condition of paranoia.

‘paranoid schizophrenia’

  1. 1.1 Unreasonably or obsessively anxious, suspicious, or mistrustful.
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Paranoia


A mental condition characterized by delusions of persecution, unwarranted jealousy, or exaggerated self-importance, typically worked into an organized system. It may be an aspect of chronic personality disorder, of drug abuse, or of a serious condition such as schizophrenia in which the person loses touch with reality.


  1. 1.1 Unjustified suspicion and mistrust of other people.
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One of my takeaways is that much of a paranoid mindset is based on 'trust issues'. Throughout the forums I have seen that many of the conspiracy theories consist of a distrust in the narrative presented by; Government, Science & the Media. There are a good many polls and analyses of the public's trust/distrust in Government, Science & the Media, one recent article in ScienceAF (When It Comes to Scientific Research, Most Americans Don't Know What to Think) led me to a report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, titled: Perceptions of Science in America.



Index.JPG

The report is particular to American's views Science, has an interesting breakdown by demographic group of trust in Science. From my perspective, having some understanding of the Scientific Method and a rigorous peer review process, an interesting question arises as to how a distrust in Science (or in Government and the Media) comes about, so that some people come to believe in some conspiracy theory that lacks verifiable evidence. By what means do people go from not understanding a topic, to becoming convinced that the broadly accepted explanation (and supporting facts) by Government/Science/Media on that topic, is a falsehood to cover up some nefarious conspiracy.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
One of my takeaways is that much of a paranoid mindset is based on 'trust issues'. Throughout the forums I have seen that many of the conspiracy theories consist of a distrust in the narrative presented by; Government, Science & the Media.

The "How paranoid are conspiracy believers" paper points out that most conspiracy theorists have a high degree of trust in their perceived peers. Like a lot of chemtrail folk trust Dane Wigington, a lot of 9/11 folk trust Richard Gage. Pathologically paranoid people don't trust anyone and end up isolated even from conspiracy theorists.

By what means do people go from not understanding a topic, to becoming convinced that the broadly accepted explanation (and supporting facts) by Government/Science/Media on that topic, is a falsehood to cover up some nefarious conspiracy.

By watching some videos.
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
Like a lot of chemtrail folk trust Dane Wigington, a lot of 9/11 folk trust Richard Gage.
But do they actually trust them? or do they just show support because they are saying publicly what the believer wants said? Going back to politics, I support certain things politicians say because it reflects my views... doesn't mean I trust the politician. (at all).
 

Whitebeard

Senior Member.
But do they actually trust them? or do they just show support because they are saying publicly what the believer wants said? Going back to politics, I support certain things politicians say because it reflects my views... doesn't mean I trust the politician. (at all).
A bit of both? I know some conspiracy types that are so enamoured of their gurus, especially the David Ike following type, who only believe in stuff because their guru has said it... 'I never gave it any thought, but in Davids new book, (dvd, lecture tour, podcast etc) hes says it is so and therefore it must be truth.'
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
But do they actually trust them? or do they just show support because they are saying publicly what the believer wants said? Going back to politics, I support certain things politicians say because it reflects my views... doesn't mean I trust the politician. (at all).
It varies, some people venerate their chosen alternative information sources.
Metabunk 2018-05-16 07-42-47.jpg
Of course there's also people who think that Wigington/Gage/Jones/Icke/whoever are disinformation agents.
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
I think the take away, just like any largish group of people, is that making generalizations about people and their motives or underlying pathology, just because they are part of a specific group is wrong. People need to be assessed on an individual basis, imo.

here is the DSM-V criteria for actual paranoid personality disorder
TABLE 1. DSM-5 Criteria for Paranoid Personality Disorder

A. A pervasive distrust and suspiciousness of others such that their motives are interpreted as malevolent, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by four (or more) of the following:

1. Suspects, without sufficient basis, that others are exploiting, harming, or deceiving him or her.
2. Is preoccupied with unjustified doubts about the loyalty or trustworthiness of friends or associates.
3. Is reluctant to confide in others because of unwarranted fear that the information will be used maliciously against him or her.
4. Reads hidden demeaning or threatening meanings into benign remarks or events.
5. Persistently bears grudges (i.e., is unforgiving of insults, injuries, or slights).
6. Perceives attacks on his or her character or reputation that are not apparent to others and is quick to react angrily or to counterattack.
7. Has recurrent suspicions, without justification, regarding fidelity of spouse or sexual partner.

B. Does not occur exclusively during the course of schizophrenia, a bipolar disorder or a depressive disorder with psychotic features, or another psychotic disorder and is not attributable to the physiological effects of another medical condition.
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scombrid

Senior Member.
The "How paranoid are conspiracy believers" paper points out that most conspiracy theorists have a high degree of trust in their perceived peers.

I have felt like the "in-group" trust is almost pathological among the fervent conspiracy believers. There are people with an automatic distrust of the "official story" on a huge range of topics because they view the government as this faceless thing that is out to get them in some way. This is true on many scientific issues whether it is climate science or invasive aquatic plant management here in Florida. The same people, at least those with which I have personal experience, unflinchingly unquestioningly trust Scott Pruitt.

But it isn't pathological. I think it is fairly normal tribalism. We trust our perceived peers and dislike the other. Some powerful interests are really good at exploiting that tendency.
 
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scombrid

Senior Member.
I think the take away, just like any largish group of people, is that making generalizations about people and their motives or underlying pathology, just because they are part of a specific group is wrong. People need to be assessed on an individual basis, imo.

Sure every person is unique. But you can't tailor a message to each and every unique person when you are trying to reach a lot of people.

Group averages still exist and are useful for understanding trends and general traits so that we can communicate better on average.

Taking an average and working from there is a constraint that time and resources place on every science. When I am deciding what is the best length limit for harvesting fish I don't model based on the growth of each and every individual fish. I model based on a mean length at age plusminus an error value. Average might be 400 mm long by age three but there are animals that are 250 mm and some that are 500 mm.
 
Generalising is a necessary evil in order to make the universe comprehensible, but it a heuristic that is very overused. Unfortunately I suspect humans are wired that way, it is a flaw we have to figure out how to deal with.
 

deirdre

Senior Member.
Sure every person is unique. But you can't tailor a message to each and every unique person when you are trying to reach a lot of people.

I agree that if you are tailoring a Public Service message or self help pamphlet*, then generalizations are necessary. But I don't think when people call CTers "paranoid", they are messaging to CTers.

*(although maybe "you are paranoid, seek professional help" is in the self help pamphlets.. I've never seen one.)

“I have been studying conspiracy mentality for almost ten years now and although there is fantastic scholarly work out there, something bugged me about the way conspiracy scholars talk about conspiracy ‘believers’. Too often, there is a slight pathologizing tone and a certain arrogance towards the ‘crazy’ conspiracy believers,” explained study author Roland Imhoff, professor of social and legal psychology. http://www.psypost.org/2018/05/study-conspiracy-theorists-not-necessarily-paranoid-51216
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Rory

Senior Member.
“All through my life I've had this strange unaccountable feeling that something was going on in the world, something big, even sinister, and no one would tell me what it was."

"No," said the old man, "that's just perfectly normal paranoia. Everyone in the Universe has that.”

― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Personally, I've long been suffering from pronoia - that is, the strange, unaccountable feeling that everyone and everything is conspiring for my benefit. :)
 

Whitebeard

Senior Member.
Personally, I've long been suffering from pronoia - that is, the strange, unaccountable feeling that everyone and everything is conspiring for my benefit. :)
That can be weird. A few months ago my beloved guitar amp, a vintage Laney TF300 (125watt combo valve pre-amp and solid state main amp) died, and proved beyond repair. So I saved upfor a replacement. Then just when I had got the cash together to buy a replacement my PC died, and as I need a PC for my 'day job' all the cash was spent on getting that fixed. Twas then the gods of rock smiled. First the bassist from my punk band who works in a local recycling plant turned up with a Roland DAC50 combo someone hadchucked in a skip. It works perfectly, then two day later another mate turned up with a 50watt Marshall combo he wasn't using and thought I could use, and all he wouldtake in payment was a couple of ciders!!

Of course its coincidence, but hey sometimes the breaks do turn in your favour :D
 
But do they actually trust them [Dane Wigington etc.]? or do they just show support because they are saying publicly what the believer wants said? Going back to politics, I support certain things politicians say because it reflects my views... doesn't mean I trust the politician. (at all).

A month or two ago I was commenting to a believer on YouTube...
After first explaining the science of how persistent contrails form he replied with a link to Dane Wigington's website.
In reply I linked him to the video that shows/proves that Dane photoshopped contrails into the pictures on his site.
This guy responded to say that he was aware of that, but that he thinks that Dane is doing good things to fight "chemtrails".

I then asked him why a trustworthy person who's motivation is doing good things would present false evidence and lie.
I also mentioned that Dane has a PayPal DONATE button on his site.

Of course it went nowhere. I think he repeated his previous response about Dane doing good things and then he disappeared.

That really blew my mind. It's like putting cult of personality ahead of honesty.
Or maybe it isn't? Maybe it's not cult of personality, it's really... umm... maybe it's putting total and complete blind faith in anyone who is advocating for your movement or your belief (or fighting against the big bad government?) even when you know they lie to you to scare you into supporting the movement that you feel so strongly about.

[...]
 
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