Conspiracy theories/Academic research/Projection

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Concept.png Conspiracy theories/Academic research/Projection
Academic studies of "conspiracy theories" are interesting examples of psychological projection.

Academic studies of "conspiracy theories" often manifest projection onto "conspiracy theorists", who are assumed "susceptible" because of their emotional needs, whether for closure, to stand out or to fit in. This compares with the need of the researchers to build a theory of "conspiracy theories" which is uninformed by historical lessons about conspiracies.

Purported irrationality of conspiracy beliefs

A 2018 paper that attempted to define the "Basic principles of [the] emerging research domain" of "conspiracy theories" claimed that they are emotional given that negative emotions and not rational deliberations cause conspiracy beliefs; and they are social as conspiracy beliefs are closely associated with psychological motivations underlying intergroup conflict” [1] This compares with the consistent failure of those who research "conspiracy theories" to engage with the factual content of these theories, sidestepping the possibility that logical deduction could lead anyone to believe in them.

Minority status

Research in to "conspiracy theories" tends to assume that only a minority of people believe in them, notwithstanding evidence to the contrary. Roland Imhoff and Pia Karoline Lamberty state in their conclusion that “[Conspiracy beliefs] are — almost by definition — not shared by the majority of people.” [2] This compares with a 2017 estimate of 60% of the US and UK population believing in at least one conspiracy theory.[3]

"Conspiracy mindset‎"

Full article: “Conspiracy mindset‎”

A lot of research assumes the existence of a "conspiracy mindset" which predisposes the naive and emotionally needy to hold "conspiracy beliefs". By implication, they are above such irrational behaviour and are justified in their refusal to insist that such beliefs do not arise based on the preponderance of evidence.

Unwarranted inference

A 2018 paper suggested that “conspiracy beliefs were found to be more prevalent among disadvantaged groups, who presumably have a stronger need to explain events beyond their control... conspiracy thinking reflects a “psychological need to explain events”, and may be sustained by willingness to impose implausible causal narratives on event sequences.” [4] This can be compared with the researchers' emotional attachment to the idea that people do not believe in conspiracies because they are witnessing conspiracies, sustained by willingness to impose implausible causal narratives on the behaviours of the people they term "conspiracy theorists".


An example

Page nameDescription
COMPACT - Comparative Analysis of Conspiracy Theories


  1. Belief in conspiracy theories: Basic principles of an emerging research domain , 2018
  2. Too special to be duped: Need for uniqueness motivates conspiracy beliefs , 2016
  4. Suspicious binds: Conspiracy thinking and tenuous perceptions of causal connections between co-occurring and spuriously correlated events , 2018