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Narcissistic and depressed people are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories: Study

Agreeable and diligent individuals, on the other hand, are slightly more unlikely to hold such unfounded beliefs
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

People with some personalities – narcissism, self-importance or impulsiveness – or those with signs of depression and anxiety are little more likely to fall prey to conspiracy theories. Agreeable and diligent individuals, on the other hand, are slightly more unlikely to hold such unfounded beliefs, researchers from Emory University found.

“With all changes happening in politics, the polarization and lack of respect, conspiracy theories are playing a bigger role in people’s thinking and behavior possibly than ever,” Shauna Bowes, a research psychologist at Emory University who led the study team, told The New York Times. “And there was no consensus on the psychological bases of conspiracy beliefs. In this work, we tried to address that.”

"A mixture of narcissism and undue intellectual certainty, on the one hand, conjoined with poor impulse control, angst, interpersonal alienation, and reduced inquisitiveness, on the other hand, may provide a personological recipe for a tendency to impetuously latch on to spurious but confidently held causal narratives that account for one’s distress and resentment," the researchers wrote in their study.

Another study found that young people and those from low income and education backgrounds were more likely to believe conspiracy beliefs about the origins and seriousness of the pandemic. About 14.8% said that the virus was created in the pharmaceutical industry, and 28.3% said the coronavirus was a bioweapon made in China, their findings suggested.

(Getty Images)

Previous studies on the link between personality traits and conspiracy theories are mixed. However, people with maladaptive personality traits such as paranoia and disorganized patterns of thinking, or depression and anxiety may believe in them, previous research has suggested. With this new study, researches aimed to bring out a clearer picture.

So researchers enrolled 1,927 people in this study, including students from the university and random participants. Participants asked them to rate the accuracy of theories like this: "Some U.F.O. sightings and rumors are planned or staged in order to distract the public from real alien contact." The analysis showed that 60% of the participants did not believe in them, but 40% did.

Then the researches matched these answers with personalities. The correlations between certain personality traits and a tendency to believe conspiracies were small, lead researcher Bowes told Insider, but still offer insights into how personhood influences behavior.

People showing narcissism, self-importance, or impulsiveness or a combination of them all had a small but positive link with conspiracies. It was the same with people showing signs of anxiety and depression. "These results are consistent with suppositions that conspiracy beliefs may arise from strong emotional reactions to negative life events," the researchers said.

“As a rule, people don’t want to spread false content,” Gordon Pennycook, a behavioral scientist at the University of Regina’s school of business, told The New York Times. “But at a time like this, when people are worried about the virus, headlines like ‘Vitamin C Cures Covid’ or ‘It’s All a Hoax’ tend to travel widely. Eventually, these things reach the Crazy Uncle, who then shares it” with his peers.

The study is published in the Journal of Personality.