Monday, August 8, 2022

Suspicious binds: Conspiracy thinking and tenuous perceptions of causal connections between co‐occurring and spuriously correlated events

Previous research indicates that conspiracy thinking is informed by the psychological imposition of order and meaning on the environment, including the perception of causal relations between random events. Four studies indicate that conspiracy belief is driven by readiness to draw implausible causal connections even when events are not random, but instead conform to an objective pattern. Study 1 (N = 195) showed that conspiracy belief was related to the causal interpretation of real‐life, spurious correlations (e.g., between chocolate consumption and Nobel prizes). In Study 2 (N = 216), this effect held adjusting for correlates including magical and non‐analytical thinking. Study 3 (N = 214) showed that preference for conspiracy explanations was associated with the perception that a focal event (e.g., the death of a journalist) was causally connected to similar, recent events. Study 4 (N = 211) showed that conspiracy explanations for human tragedies were favored when they comprised part of a cluster of similar events (vs. occurring in isolation); crucially, they were independently increased by a manipulation of causal perception. We discuss the implications of these findings for previous, mixed findings in the literature and for the relation between conspiracy thinking and other cognitive processes.

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