Exposure to conspiracy theories can intensify prejudice towards minority groups
Our research has demonstrated that exposure to conspiracy theories about groups can increase prejudice and discrimination. This effect has been established in two contexts: with immigrants and with Jewish people.
Dr Daniel Jolley, Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology
That is the conclusion of research published in the British Psychological Society’s British Journal of Psychology today, 14 March 2019.
The researchers – chartered BPS member Dr Daniel Jolley from Staffordshire University, Dr Rose Meleady from the University of East Anglia and BPS member Professor Karen Douglas from the University of Kent – carried out three studies to examine the effect of exposure to conspiracy theories on people’s attitudes towards minority groups.
In the first study, participants were exposed to one of three stories; a conspiracy story about immigrants’ involvement in terrorist organisations and their plots to attack Britain from within, an anti-conspiracy narrative or a neutral narrative.
When tested afterwards, participants who had been exposed to the conspiracy story held more conspiracy beliefs and expressed more prejudice towards immigrants.
In the second and third studies, participants were again exposed to pro-conspiracy, anti-conspiracy or neutral information. This time it concerned Jewish people, and the participants in both studies who had been exposed to the pro-conspiracy story held more conspiracy beliefs and expressed more prejudice towards Jewish people.
Participants also completed a measure to gauge their feelings towards a number of other groups, such as people of different nationalities, ethnicities and social position.
The researchers found that the participants who had been exposed to the anti-Jewish conspiracy material expressed greater prejudice towards these other groups as well as towards Jewish people.
Dr Daniel Jolley said: “Our research has demonstrated that exposure to conspiracy theories about groups can increase prejudice and discrimination. This effect has been established in two contexts: with immigrants and with Jewish people.
“Exposure to intergroup conspiracy theories can also lead to a more general effect. We showed that Jewish conspiracy theories led to increased prejudice towards other groups.
“Our research suggests that conspiracy theories can have a widespread negative impact on intergroup relations, though further research is needed to measure how persistent this effect is.
“We would suggest that efforts to reduce prejudice and defuse negative intergroup relations should, therefore, consider the contribution of popular and pervasive conspiracy theories.”