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Keywords:

  • conspiracy theories;
  • conspiracy mentality;
  • power;
  • generalised political attitudes;
  • prejudice;
  • right-wing authoritarianism;
  • social dominance orientation

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. STUDY 1
  4. STUDY 2
  5. STUDY 3
  6. STUDY 4
  7. STUDY 5
  8. GENERAL DISCUSSION
  9. REFERENCES
  10. APPENDIX

Conspiracy theories explain complex world events with reference to secret plots hatched by powerful groups. Belief in such theories is largely determined by a general propensity towards conspirational thinking. Such a conspiracy mentality can be understood as a generalised political attitude, distinct from established generalised political attitudes such as right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) and social dominance orientation (SDO) (Study 1a, N = 497) that is temporally relatively stable (Study 1b and 1c, total N = 196). Three further studies (combined N = 854) show that in contrast to RWA and SDO, conspiracy mentality is related to prejudice against high-power groups that are perceived as less likeable and more threatening than low-power groups, whereas SDO and RWA are associated with an opposite reaction to perceptions of power. Study 5 (N = 1852) investigates the relationship of conspiracy mentality with political behavioural intentions in a specific catastrophic scenario (i.e. the damage to the Fukushima nuclear reactor after the 2011 tsunami in Japan) revealing a hitherto neglected role of conspiracy mentality in motivating social action aimed at changing the status quo. Copyright © 2013 European Association of Personality Psychology.

Individuals harbour conspiracy theories about a great number of significant events that seem to demand an explanation. Such events include, for example, the assassination of prominent leaders (e.g. McCauley & Jacques, 1979), terrorist attacks (e.g. Swami, Chamorro-Premuzic, & Furnham, 2010) or the appearance of new diseases such as HIV (e.g. Parsons, Simmons, Shinhoster, & Kilburn, 1999). The tendency to attribute these events to a secret plot by a covert alliance of powerful individuals or to clandestine organisations rather than to more mundane human (in)activity or natural forces has been reported for various cultures (e.g. Byford & Billig, 2001; Goertzel, 1994; Graumann & Moscovici, 1987; Swami, 2012). Belief in conspiracies seems to be rather widespread (Goertzel, 1994) and can be evoked by minimal exposure to relevant theories (Douglas & Sutton, 2008).

Several scholars have argued that one reason for the popularity of conspiracy theories is their function in regaining control and predictability (McCauley & Jacques, 1979; Young, Launer, & Austin, 1990; Zarefsky, 1984). If misfortunes are the result of intentional actions of mean-spirited conspirators rather than simply due to chance, victims may perceive the possibility to regain control by undermining the presumed conspiracy. In fact, experimental research has found support for the hypothesis that lack of control increases compensatory beliefs in conspiracy theories (e.g. Sullivan, Landau, & Rothschild, 2010; Whitson & Galinsky, 2008). In light of these functional and situation-dependent aspects of the endorsement of conspiracy theories, one could assume that personality-related factors play little to no role in the degree to which specific conspiracy theories are endorsed.

A general propensity to endorse conspiracy beliefs?

However, previous work has identified a number of personality variables associated with the belief in specific conspiracy theories, such as low levels of trust (Goertzel, 1994), feelings of powerlessness and low self-esteem (Abalakina-Paap, Stephan, Craig, & Gregory, 1999), low levels of agreeableness (Swami et al., 2011), schizotypy (Darwin, Neave, & Holmes, 2011) and death-related anxiety (Newheiser, Farias, & Tausch, 2011). Importantly, the endorsement of specific conspiracy theories is associated with greater beliefs in other conspiracy theories (Swami et al., 2010), even if they are fully fictitious (Swami et al., 2011, Study 2). Further support for the notion of individual differences in conspiracy mentality stems from research showing that mutually contradictory conspiracy beliefs are positively correlated (Wood, Douglas, & Sutton, 2012). Specifically, individuals who thought that Princess Diana was assassinated were also more (not less) likely to believe that she faked her own death.

The idea that such a general propensity to endorse conspiracy theories exists is perhaps best captured in Moscovici's (1987) notion of a ‘conspiracy mentality’ or what Popper (1966) called the conspiracy theory of society, that is, ‘the view that an explanation of a social phenomenon consists in the discovery of the men or groups who are interested in the occurrence of this phenomenon […] and who have planned and conspired to bring it about’ (p. 295). We argue that this ‘mistaken theory that, whatever happens in society – especially happenings such as war, unemployment, poverty, shortages, which people as a rule dislike – is the result of direct design by some powerful individuals and groups’ (Popper, 1966, p. 295, italics not in original) predisposes individuals to attribute significant events to the intentional actions of mean-intending groups of individuals who are sufficiently powerful to carry out the suspected conspirational act.

The present research puts to a test the idea that individual differences in the propensity to believe in conspiracy theories uniquely predict (i) prejudicial attitudes towards powerful societal groups and (ii) politically relevant behavioural intentions designed to undermine the perceived conspiracy.

We argue that such a conspiracy mentality can be characterised as a generalised political attitude, much like other well-established political attitudes such as right-wing authoritarianism (RWA; Altemeyer, 1988) and social dominance orientation (SDO; Pratto, Sidanius, Stallworth, & Malle, 1994). A generalised political attitude describes individual differences in a stable ideological belief system that allows predicting attitudes to specific attitude objects based on a specific attribute of the object such as its deviant nature, its low status or its high power. For instance, someone high in RWA will have a markedly negative attitude to deviant groups or persons, whereas high SDO scores predict negative attitudes against low-status groups. With respect to conspiracy mentality, we argue that it is characterised by a ‘monological belief system’ (Goertzel, 1994) associated with disliking powerful societal groups and perceiving them as responsible for political and economic events with negative implications. For instance, individuals high in conspiracy mentality will attribute the present financial crisis to the coordinated actions of greedy managers and bankers rather than systemic dynamics in a complex economy. Likewise, threat induced by ecological crises such as a nuclear disaster will likely be resolved by attributing this threat to the intentional (although hidden) misconduct of politicians and energy corporations. Importantly, the groups seen as responsible have to be perceived as being high in power and influence; otherwise, it would be implausible to assume that they are able to ‘pull off’ the conspiracy and thereby cause the crisis. In contrast to the system-justifying function of RWA and SDO (Jost & Hunyady, 2005), conspiracy mentality therefore challenges existing power structures in society. This is because powerful groups in particular are being seen as responsible for present and past crises that may result in behavioural intentions to undermine the perceived conspiracy by these groups and therefore their position in society.

The distinction between high-power and low-power groups is therefore important (and sometimes overlooked) with regard to the relation between generalised political attitudes and prejudice. Both SDO and RWA have been identified as significant, but distinct, predictors of generalised prejudice (e.g. Asbrock, Sibley, & Duckitt, 2010; Whitley, 1999), social attitudes (Cohrs, Kielmann, Maes, & Moschner, 2005) and behaviour (e.g. Son Hing, Bobocel, Zanna, & McBride, 2007). In fact, as far as prejudice is concerned, Asbrock and colleagues (2010) state that ‘numerous independent studies have now shown that RWA and SDO explain up to 50% of the variance in generalised prejudice with no other psychological individual difference variables adding notably to variance predicted’ (p. 325f.). This contention is, for example, supported by research showing that RWA and SDO were the proximal predictors of generalised prejudice mediating any effects of the ‘Big Five’ personality characteristics (Ekehammar, Akrami, Gylje, & Zakrisson, 2004; but see McFarland, 2010).

Although numerous studies observed independent contributions of RWA and SDO to prejudicial attitudes (e.g. Akrami, Ekehammar, & Yang-Wallentin, 2011; Duckitt & Sibley, 2007; Duckitt, Wagner, du Plessis, & Birum, 2002), these studies usually examined sexism or prejudice against disadvantaged, supposedly relatively low-power groups such as ethnic or religious minorities, homosexuals and disabled people. Importantly, we argue that some prejudice is directed at explicitly high-power groups and that conspiracy mentality is a particularly potent predictor of such prejudicial attitudes. Anti-Semitism provides a case in point: anti-Semitic prejudice often involves ideas revolving around Jewish world domination. It therefore explicitly targets a group that—despite often being a vulnerable minority at the local level—is being perceived as powerful at the global level. We argue that anti-Semitic prejudice is just one case among many in which prejudice against groups that are perceived as high in power will be related to general conspiracy mentality.

The present research

We conducted five studies, three of which tested our prediction that conspiracy mentality is related to prejudice against high-power groups and that this prediction is unique (compared with RWA and SDO) both in direction and in terms of explained variance. After establishing that conspiracy mentality can be understood as a distinct and temporally stable generalised political attitude in Study 1, Study 2 explored the link between conspiracy mentality and anti-Semitism (even if no Jews were mentioned in the conspiracies) as well as prejudice against low-power groups (Muslims and Gypsies) and high-power groups (capitalists and Americans), controlling for RWA and SDO. Studies 3 and 4 tested the predicted association between conspiracy mentality and negative attitudes towards powerful groups across a broader range of societal groups. Participants rated their perceptions of power of each of 32 groups as well as how likeable and how threatening they thought each group was. The intraindividual correlations between power and likeability, respectively power and threat, were then used as criterion variables predicted by conspiracy mentality, RWA and SDO. Whereas Study 3 assessed perceptions of general threat, Study 4 distinguished between perceptions of realistic and symbolic threats. Finally, we conducted a fifth study to test the novel idea that individuals high in conspiracy mentality not only distrust those in power but also actively work towards changing the status quo.

STUDY 1

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. STUDY 1
  4. STUDY 2
  5. STUDY 3
  6. STUDY 4
  7. STUDY 5
  8. GENERAL DISCUSSION
  9. REFERENCES
  10. APPENDIX

Study 1 tested the psychometric properties and discriminant validity of the Conspiracy Mentality Scale. First, we established discriminant validity in a large sample (Study 1a) before testing the intertemporal stability with two further samples in Study 1b and Study 1c.

Method for Study 1a

Participants

A total of N = 497 participants (245 women, 240 men, 1 other, 11 missing; Mage = 33.49 years, SDage = 12.25 years) were recruited via Amazon MTurk in a study on personality and attitudes. The sample was diverse with respect to education, ethnic background and income (see (Table 2)). Every participant received 25 ct as a compensation for their participation.

Conspiracy mentality

Twelve items tapping into a general propensity to believe in conspiracies were either purpose designed for this study or taken from the existing literature (Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, & Sanford, 1950). No item mentioned specific conspiracies or specific groups responsible for these conspiracies. The scale was originally developed in German and then independently translated into English by two translators competent in both languages. The final items were then discussed between one translator and two native English speakers (see the Appendix for the item wording in English and German).

Other measures

To establish discriminant validity, we assessed the two most prominent generalised political attitudes with well-established scales. The 12-item scale of RWA (Funke, 2005) and the standard 16-item SDO scale (Pratto et al., 1994) were included. The RWA scale consists of three subfacets (authoritarian aggression, authoritarian submission and conventionalism), and each of these is measured by two positively phrased and two reverse-coded items. The standard SDO scale has mostly been used as a one-dimensional measure, but recent research suggested that it may be better construed as two-factorial with dominance and egalitarianism (reverse-coded) as the two factors (Ho et al., 2012). As a parsimonious measure of general personality factors, we used the Ten Item Personality Measure (TIPI; Gosling, Rentfrow, & Swann, 2003) to obtain the estimates of all Big Five personality dimensions (based on two items per dimension).

Procedure

Participants gave informed consent before completing the TIPI, Conspiracy Mentality Scale, RWA and SDO scale all on a 7-point scale. They subsequently provided demographic information about gender, age, ethnicity, education, household income, political orientation (on three item asking participants to position themselves on a left–right continuum regarding social issues, economic issues and in general), religious affiliation and religiosity. No other variables were included in the study.

Results for Study 1a

All scales showed satisfactory reliability with the exception of TIPI agreeableness (Table 1). Conspiracy mentality was not only nonredundant but also virtually unrelated both to other political attitudes (RWA, SDO and political orientation) and to more basic personality dimensions (Big Five). In contrast, SDO and RWA were highly interrelated and also associated with a more right-wing political orientation and lower levels of openness to new experiences. The only distinction between the two was the high correlation of RWA with religiosity in contrast to the complete lack of association between SDO and religiosity. Age was positively related to conspiracy mentality, r = .10, p = .02 and RWA and r = .10, p = .03, but not to SDO, r = −.07, p = .13. Across all other background variables, none had any effect on the degree of conspiracy mentality, ps > .21, but some were related to RWA and SDO (Table 2).

Table 1. Descriptive statistics and intercorrelations of all scales included in Study 1
 DescriptivesIntercorrelations
αMSD1.2.3.4.5.6.7.8.9.
  1. Note: N = 496. 1.–8. on scales from 1 to 7, 9. on scale from 1 to 9 and 10. on scale from 1 to 4. Correlations coefficient of |r| > .13 significant at p < .00111 (Bonferroni-adjusted alpha for 45 bivariate correlations).

  2. SD, standard deviation; RWA, right-wing authoritarianism; SDO, social dominance orientation; TIPI, Ten Item Personality Measure.

1. Conspiracy mentality.904.761.07         
2. RWA.853.611.34.05        
3. SDO.932.631.23.03.40       
4. TIPI extraversion.753.641.52.03.11.00      
5. TIPI conscientiousness.655.301.29.01.16−.09.14     
6. TIPI openness.605.061.28.10−.20−.24.35.11    
7. TIPI Neuroticism.733.211.45.03−.05.08−.17−.37−.13   
8. TIPI agreeableness.375.041.20−.03.08−.26.06.31.17−.33  
9. Political orientation.924.451.96.07.61.52.00.07−.17−.06−.03 
10. Religiosity2.371.10.08.48.04.16.05.03−.07.22.34
Table 2. Generalized political attitudes as a function of demographic factors
  Conspiracy mentalityRWASDO
Demographic variablesnMSDMSDMSD
  1. Note: Subscripts indicate an effect of demographic factor; different letters indicate significant mean differences. Because of small numbers, the following groups are not listed: Gender: other (n = 1); ethnicity: American Indian/Alaskan Native (n = 6), Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (n = 1), Multiracial, Black and White (n = 6), Multiracial, other (n = 7) and other or unknown (n = 6); religion: Muslim (n = 8) and Jewish (n = 6); education: some high school (n = 5), MBA (n = 5), JD (n = 5), MD (n = 3) and PhD (n = 6). All household income levels above $60 000 per year were combined into one income level.

  2. SD, standard deviation; RWA, right-wing authoritarianism; SDO, social dominance orientation.

Gender       
Male2404.721.063.601.122.85A1.18
Female2454.781.073.621.172.41B1.04
Ethnicity       
Asian364.630.943.750.862.86A1.27
Hispanic274.740.823.641.072.55AB0.94
Black – non-Hispanic374.821.024.060.981.97B0.95
White – non-Hispanic3694.771.103.531.162.66A1.12
Religion       
Christian Catholic864.811.104.12A0.843.10A1.21
Christian Protestant1364.601.034.16A0.932.63B1.12
Atheists1144.651.182.77B0.982.50B1.08
Education       
High school graduate484.861.023.980.862.801.08
Some college1514.781.103.601.112.681.15
Associate's degree504.880.993.791.092.791.19
Bachelor's degree1444.641.063.471.132.501.12
Some graduate school275.041.143.541.142.661.16
Master's degree424.651.133.351.232.511.12
Income level       
Less than $10 0001714.611.083.571.162.551.16
$10 000–$20 000754.801.083.651.262.591.16
$20 000–$30 000814.851.043.491.102.600.96
$30 000–$40 000525.041.063.481.092.551.06
$40 000–$50 000334.921.233.611.012.701.24
$50 000–$60 000354.740.763.711.052.651.14
More than $60 000484.671.163.921.063.041.16

A confirmatory factor analysis was performed to test the assumed factor structure of the generalised political attitudes. To reduce the random error of manifest variables, we based our analyses on parcels of two items rather than individual items (Little, Cunningham, Shahar, & Widaman, 2002). Each parcel consisted of two items of identical coding and subscale. The Conspiracy Mentality Scale was modelled as one-factorial, whereas we followed Ho and colleagues (2012) in assuming a two-factorial solution for SDO with the subfactors egalitarianism (SDO-E) and dominance (SDO-D) (Ho et al., 2012). The RWA scale was modelled with each item predicted by a latent factor representing the respective subscale (authoritarian aggression, authoritarian submission and conventionalism) and whether it was reverse-coded or not (Funke, 2005). The confirmatory factor analysis for the Conspiracy Mentality Scale, χ2(9) = 26.10, p = .002, χ2/degrees of freedom (df) = 2.90, Goodness of Fit Index (GFI) = .98, Tucker-Lewis Index (TLI) = .98, Comparative Fit Index (CFI) = .99, Root Mean Square Error of Approximation (RMSEA) = .07, and for the RWA scale, χ2(3) = 8.81, p = .03, χ2/df = 2.94, GFI = .99, TLI = .97, CFI = .99, RMSEA = .07, yielded an acceptable fit, whereas this was not true for the SDO scale, χ2(19) = 120.76, p < .001, χ2/df = 6.36, GFI = .92, TLI = .94, CFI = .96, RMSEA = .11. All latent variables loaded significantly on all item parcels for CM, |ß| > .49, RWA, |ß| > .46, and SDO, |ß| > .75.

To examine the associations between the three constructs and their subcomponents, we analysed an overall model in which the latent variables were allowed to correlate. The model had an acceptable fit, χ2(152) = 409.75, p < .001, χ2/df = 2.70, GFI = .91, TLI = .94, CFI = .95, RMSEA = .06. The three subfacets of RWA intercorrelated as expected, rs > .69, as did the two subfacets of SDO, r = −.66. Conspiracy Mentality was unrelated to SDO-E, r = .02, RWA conventionalism, r = .07, and RWA authoritarian submission, r = .05, and only moderately related to SDO-D, r = .16, and RWA authoritarian aggression, r = .15. In contrast, all subfacets of RWA and SDO were systematically related with correlations ranging in magnitude (independent of direction) from r = −.28 between SDO-E and RWA conventionalism to r = .54 between SDO-D and RWA authoritarian submission.

Methods and results for Study 1b and Study 1c

Study 1b and Study 1c were conducted to test the temporal stability of conspiracy mentality over time. To this end, we asked participants to complete the German version of the Conspiracy Mentality Scale twice with a time lag of 15 days (Study 1b) and 1 year (Study 1c) in between measurement occasions.

Participants

Both samples consisted of students who participated for course credit or the chance to win a raffle for a 25 Euro (Study 1b) or 20 Euro (Study 1c) voucher at a large internet store. In Study 1b, out of originally 176 participants who completed the study at t1, 133 also participated in the retest (50 men, 82 women, 1 without response; Mage = 24.27 years, SDage = 5.21 years). Dropout was independent of conspiracy mentality at t1, t(175) = 0.54, p = .59. In Study 1c, out of originally 105 participants, 63 participated in the retest (9 men, 54 women, Mage = 21.90 years, SDage = 4.20 years). Dropout was independent of conspiracy mentality at t1, t(103) = 1.15, p = .25.

Design

Participants completed an otherwise unrelated online survey that included the Conspiracy Mentality Scale. Each participant was assigned a code that allowed matching t1 and t2 responses. Approximately 15 days after participating in the first part of Study 1b they received an invitation to complete a second survey that again contained the Conspiracy Mentality Scale. The procedure was identical for Study 1c, except the longer time lag of one year.

Results

Conspiracy mentality proved to be relatively stable over time, as indicated by the retest reliabilities of rtt = .88, p < .001 (Study 1b) and rtt = .67, p < .001 (Study 1c).

Discussion

Study 1 introduced a new, short, internally reliable and temporally stable scale to measure individual differences in conspiracy mentality. The scale had discriminant validity compared with both RWA and SDO supporting the idea that conspiracy mentality forms a meaningful individual difference variable that is not redundant with the two major established generalised political attitudes RWA or SDO. Whereas this may not come as a surprise with regard to SDO, for RWA, this finding is less self-evident. Early conceptions of authoritarianism (Adorno et al., 1950) have included beliefs in conspiracies as an integral part of authoritarianism.1 Furthermore, conspiracy mentality was not reducible to the influence of any demographic factor (only a small covariation with age) or any more basic personality variable (no significant covariation with any of the Big Five factors). Its retest reliability over 15 days and 1 year supported the notion of stable individual differences in conspiracy mentality over time.

STUDY 2

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. STUDY 1
  4. STUDY 2
  5. STUDY 3
  6. STUDY 4
  7. STUDY 5
  8. GENERAL DISCUSSION
  9. REFERENCES
  10. APPENDIX

In Study 2, we were interested in the relation between generalised political attitudes and prejudice. Specifically, we assessed prejudices against a number of social groups that differ in their perceived power. We predicted that conspiracy mentality would be a particular potent predictor of prejudice against high-power groups such as capitalists and Americans. Muslims and Roma/Sinti were included as low-power groups for whom RWA and SDO were expected to be particularly strong predictors of prejudice. We also included a measure of anti-Semitism as a case in which a group is often seen as an out-group minority (and thereby may become a target of authoritarian aggression, e.g. Adorno et al., 1950) but is also seen as a powerful group (e.g. Fiske, Cuddy, Glick, & Xu, 2002). We hypothesised that conspiracy mentality would be related to prejudices against groups perceived as powerful (capitalist, Americans and Jews), whereas RWA and SDO would be related to prejudice against classic targets of discrimination such as Roma/Sinti, Muslims and Jews. Importantly, we predicted that conspiracy mentality would predict anti-Semitism over and above its prediction by RWA and SDO.

Method

Participants

Two hundred ninety-four participants (133 men, 161 women; Mage = 28.09 years, SDage = 10.41 years) completed an online survey on political attitudes. The link was posted on social networking sites and online bulletin boards. The majority of participants had a relatively high level of education (81 had a university degree and 164 had the highest German high-school degree ‘Abitur’) and no migration background (n = 245).

Measures

Generalised political attitudes

The measures of conspiracy mentality, RWA and SDO were identical to Study 1. We used the German version of the Conspiracy Mentality Scale (see the Appendix), the German version of the same RWA measure (Funke, 2005) and the German adaptation (von Collani, 2002) of the original 16-item SDO scale (Pratto et al., 1994).

Anti-Semitism

Prejudice against Jews has long been connected to conspiracy beliefs including, in particular, belief in a Jewish world conspiracy (Kofta & Sedek, 2005). We used a 12-item, shortened version of an anti-Semitism scale used in a previous research (Imhoff & Banse, 2009; e.g. ‘Jews are always stirring up trouble with their ideas’). Note that none of the items referred to the idea of a Jewish conspiracy.

Islamoprejudice

A 10-item version of the Islamoprejudice subscale of the Scale for Islamoprejudice and Secular Critique of Islam (Imhoff & Recker, 2012) was used to tap into prejudice against Muslims (e.g. ‘Compared to Western Europeans Muslims are rather irrational’).

Antiziganism

Antiziganism involves hostile prejudice against individuals belonging to the groups of Roma and Sinti, often subsumed under the disputed label gypsies. Across many European societies, these groups are perceived as having very low power, and they often face severe discrimination (Traynor, 2009) and unemployment rates of up to 100% (O'Higgins & Ivanov, 2006). We created a 9-item scale that included items referring to the stereotype of higher criminality (e.g. ‘I am convinced that Roma and Sinti are more often involved in theft than native Germans’.), blaming of Roma and Sinti for the persecution they experience (e.g. ‘The persecution of Roma and Sinti is connected with their refusal to adjust to the dominant norms’) or general preference for social distance (e.g. ‘It would be better to have no Roma or Sinti in the country’.; see the Appendix for full-scale wording).2

Anti-Americanism

The USA is commonly perceived as the most powerful nation in the world and is a frequent target of prejudice (Fabbrini, 2004; O'Connor, 2007). We created an 8-item scale assessing prejudiced views of the USA and its inhabitants (e.g. ‘In my perspective Americans are arrogant and superficial’; see full-scale wording in the Appendix).

Personalised anti-capitalism

Personalised anti-capitalism blames the hardships created by the capitalist economic system on the behaviour of individuals rather than system-inherent dynamics. We created an 11-item scale to tap into personalised anti-capitalism (e.g. ‘As a result of their greed, CEOs have lost all their morals’; full-scale wording in the Appendix).

Procedure

After providing demographic information, all participants responded to the individual difference scales in the following order: RWA, conspiracy mentality, SDO, personalised anti-capitalism, anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism, Islamoprejudice and antiziganism. After each of the latter three scales, participants indicated how powerful they perceived the respective group to be (Jews, Muslims and Roma/Sinti) on a scale from 1 (group has much less power and influence than me) to 5 (group has much more power and influence than me). These items were included to test whether participants indeed perceived these groups to be differentially powerful such that Jews are seen as more powerful than Muslims who are, in turn, perceived as more powerful than Roma and Sinti. No other variables were collected for all participants.3

Results

Although there is reason to suspect that conspiracy mentality and RWA are closely interlinked (Abalakina-Paap et al., 1999), the two scales showed a correlation of only small-to-moderate size (Table 3), whereas SDO was unrelated to conspiracy mentality but highly related to RWA. We tested the validity of our a priori assumption concerning the different levels of perceived power for the three ethno-religious groups. As expected, Jews, M = 3.19, SD = 0.71, were seen as more powerful than Muslims, M = 2.46, SD = 0.86, and Roma/Sinti, M = 1.73, SD = 0.94, with all differences being highly significant in paired t-tests, ts > 11.48, ps < .001, also after Bonferroni-adjusting the alpha level for conducting three tests (α = .016).

Table 3. Descriptive statistics and intercorrelations of all scales included in Study 2
 αMSD1.2.3.4.5.6.7.
  1. Note: N is between 276 and 294 because of missing data. All scales range from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). All correlations |r| > .27 significant at p < .0018 (Bonferroni-adjusted alpha for 28 bivariate correlations).

  2. SD, standard deviation; RWA, right-wing authoritarianism; SDO, social dominance orientation.

1. Conspiracy Mentality.894.411.09       
2. RWA.813.000.99.16      
3. SDO.902.541.03−.05.50     
4. Anti-Americanism.814.521.10.50.08−.17    
5. Personalized anti-capitalism.844.820.98.39−.16−.37.41   
6. Anti-Semitism.892.981.21.37.47.37.29.10  
7. Islamoprejudice.893.161.33.14.56.45−.01.02.33 
8. Antiziganism.902.891.28−.01.38.37−.03−.05.25.40

We hypothesised that in contrast to RWA and SDO, which should be predominantly related to prejudice against powerless groups, conspiracy mentality would specifically predict prejudice against groups that are perceived as powerful. To test these hypotheses, we conducted five separate regression analyses with RWA, SDO and conspiracy mentality as simultaneous predictors for each of the prejudice scales. To account for multiple tests on one data set, we set the alpha level for all five regression analyses to α = .01 (Bonferroni-adjusted). We always entered RWA as the first predictor, followed by SDO in the second step and CM in the last step. Only if the total amount of explained variance was significantly increased, we interpreted the beta weights. Each additional step significantly increased the explained variance, except for the inclusion of conspiracy mentality as a predictor of Islamoprejudice and antiziganism.

Figure 1 shows the standardised regression coefficients. Indeed, conspiracy mentality predicted prejudice against high-power groups (i.e. Americans, capitalists and Jews) but not against low-power groups (i.e. Muslims and Roma/Sinti). Bonferroni-corrected Steiger z-tests for dependent correlations (α = .016) revealed that conspiracy mentality was more strongly related to anti-Semitism than to Islamoprejudice, z(273) = 3.43, p < .01, or antiziganism, z(273) = 5.20, p < .01. (see Table 3 for all zero-order correlations).

image

Figure 1. Standardized regression coefficients (+SE) for right-wing authoritarianism, conspiracy mentality and social dominance orientation simultaneously predicting anti-Americanism (R2corr = .27), personalized anti-capitalism (R2corr = .27), anti-Semitism (R2corr = .33), Islamoprejudice (R2corr = .34) and antziganism (R2corr = .20). Asterisks indicate significant coefficients at p < .01.

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In contrast, RWA was only related to prejudice against ethnic or religious minority groups (i.e. Jews, Muslims and Roma/Sinti). All associations with prejudice against these groups were significant and positive, albeit somewhat stronger with Islamoprejudice than with antiziganism, z(276) = 3.24, p < .01. As RWA has been theoretically linked to negative attitudes towards groups that are seen as threatening (Duckitt et al., 2002), this may be due to the fact that Muslims are perceived as more threatening than Roma and Sinti. There was no relationship between RWA and prejudice against Americans or capitalists, speaking to the distinction between conspiracy mentality and RWA. In contrast, SDO was positively related to all forms of prejudice against ethnic and religious groups, and there was no significant difference in the magnitude of the correlations, ps > .05. In line with its presumed hierarchy-sustaining function (Jost & Hunyady, 2005), SDO was negatively related to prejudice against powerful groups (Americans and capitalists).

Discussion

Study 2 tested the unique contribution of conspiracy mentality in predicting prejudices over and above established political attitudes such as SDO and RWA. Importantly, conspiracy mentality not only added to the prediction of anti-Semitism but also showed a highly specific pattern of correlations with prejudice against low-power versus high-power groups. Whereas both RWA and SDO were consistently related to negative attitudes against low-power ethnic or religious minority groups and unrelated or even negatively related to prejudice against high-power groups such as Americans or capitalists, conspiracy mentality consistently predicted prejudice against high-power groups (i.e. Jews, Americans and capitalists).

STUDY 3

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. STUDY 1
  4. STUDY 2
  5. STUDY 3
  6. STUDY 4
  7. STUDY 5
  8. GENERAL DISCUSSION
  9. REFERENCES
  10. APPENDIX

A limitation of Study 2 was that we had selected a relatively small number of social groups assumed to differ in perceived power. Also, we only assessed differential power perceptions for the three ethnic and religious minority groups, but not for Americans and capitalists. To overcome these limitations, we conducted an additional study to test the assumption that conspiracy mentality is specifically related to disliking powerful groups and to the tendency to see them as threatening. We gathered data on perceptions of power, likeability and threat for 32 social groups and calculated individual associations between power and likeability on the one hand and power and threat on the other hand. We expected that conspiracy mentality would predict a more negative association of power with likeability and a stronger positive association of power with threat. Beliefs stating that conspiring others are responsible for life's adversities gain plausibility if these others are sufficiently powerful to exert high levels of control over others. The opposite was expected for RWA and SDO.

Method

Participants

We recruited a sample of online participants via an e-mail list of a German university. We excluded all participants who either did not complete the experiment or did not respond to more than 10% of the questions. The remaining sample consisted of N = 280 participants (110 men, 165 women, 5 unidentified; Mage = 23.71 years, SDage = 4.93 years). The majority of participants had a high level of formal education (n = 163 had ‘Abitur’ and n = 103 a university degree) and no migration background (n = 234). At the end of the study, participants could leave their e-mail address to be included in a lottery in which three individuals won €25 each.

Power, likeability and threat

Participants first rated each of 32 social groups for their level of social power (‘Please indicate how much power and influence each of the following groups has’). They then provided likeability ratings for the same groups (‘Please rate how likeable you personally find each of these groups’). Subsequently, they rated the same groups according to how threatening they perceived them to be (‘How threatening is each of these groups to you?’). Response scales ranged from 1 (not at all powerful/likeable/threatening) to 11 (very powerful/likeable/threatening). The list consisted of the five groups used in Study 2 (capitalists, Americans, Jews, Muslims and Roma/Sinti) and 27 further social groups (partially adapted from Fiske et al., 2002; see Table 4).

Table 4. Ratings of perceived power, likeability and threat for 32 social groups and correlations of likeability and threat with conspiracy mentality, RWA, and SDO (Study 3)
 RatingsCorrelations with
PowerLikeabilityThreatConspiracy MentalityRWASDO
GroupsMSDMSDMSDLikeabilityThreatLikeabilityThreatLikeabilityThreat
  1. Note: N is between 276 and 280 (because of single missing values). Power, likeability and threat ratings ranged from 1 to 11. All correlations |r| > .22 significant at p < .00026 (Bonferroni-adjusted alpha for 192 bivariate correlations).

  2. SD, standard deviation; RWA, right-wing authoritarianism; SDO, social dominance orientation.

1. Politicians9.331.455.092.105.822.96−.36.31.14.02.19−.03
2. Power companies9.291.593.541.967.252.97−.17.37.28−.11.26−.22
3. Managers9.031.495.522.276.042.88−.13.31.24−.09.22−.12
4. Lobbyists8.982.113.852.237.682.77−.15.17.19−.14.22−.10
5. Journalists8.691.636.862.044.732.93−.15.21−.11.15−.09.12
6. Capitalist8.482.084.332.256.723.10−.25.32.16−.03.22−.14
7. Physicists7.821.777.352.013.612.45−.05.26.17.03.11−.03
8. Men7.771.917.741.854.512.77.12.10.14.04.04.00
9. Americans6.262.136.102.144.152.83−.08.18.02.09−.07.02
10. Women6.041.818.521.802.772.15.08.10.05.14−.09.08
11. Married people5.931.687.611.742.321.79−.01.14.21−.03.04−.02
12. Singles5.671.897.451.812.782.23.05.12−.02.14−.12.15
13. Musicians5.582.267.902.082.251.72.09.06−.11.10−.16.08
14. Jews5.391.986.671.922.772.18−.06.21−.24.19−.36.22
15. Feminists5.362.074.932.644.182.95.01.11−.23.24−.34.23
16. Artists5.032.127.392.312.311.67.04.13−.24.12−.24.06
17. Blue collar workers5.031.767.251.802.671.96.04.12.02.09−.11.10
18. Athletes4.992.187.002.052.411.78.20.11.15.11−.04.09
19. Senior citizens4.762.256.901.932.672.17.02.09.15.07−.04.12
20. White collar workers4.711.787.261.802.441.84.04.10.02.03−.11.04
21. Muslims4.591.926.101.954.612.84−.05.20−.27.34−.38.34
22. Gay men4.581.876.932.252.431.99.01.16−.28.28−.29.24
23. Turks4.521.805.972.044.052.77−.05.25−.33.31−.41.30
24. Students4.471.879.081.772.782.12.03.00.01.15−.11.22
25. Foreigners4.261.766.941.773.952.46−.02.20−.25.37−.38.37
26. Housewives3.201.787.502.021.841.48.06−.02.20.03.07.03
27. Welfare recipients2.641.365.211.913.282.36−.09.19−.20.23−.24.27
28. Unemployed2.561.595.041.943.602.46.06.17−.29.25−.30.31
29. Roma and Sinti2.541.735.772.033.632.60−.12.18−.31.28−.32.22
30. Drug addicts2.191.423.102.055.713.27−.11.15−.25.25−.19.20
31. Asylum seekers1.881.265.652.093.642.54−.13.21−.43.36−.43.33
32. Homeless1.51.9584.752.053.702.62−.09.16−.28.18−.26.18
Generalised political attitudes

The measures of conspiracy mentality, RWA and SDO were identical to Study 2.

Procedure

Participants first rated the perceived power of all 32 social groups before rating likeability and afterwards perceived threat. After these ratings, they completed the Conspiracy Mentality Scale, RWA and SDO scales and provided demographic information. No other variables were collected.

Results

As in the previous studies, conspiracy mentality (α = .89) only showed small or negligible correlations with RWA (α = .76), r = .15, p = .01, and SDO (α = .87), r = -.05, p = .41, whereas RWA and SDO were strongly associated, r = .57, p < .001.

Mean scores

We first aggregated the power ratings across all participants, ICC(2,1) = .53, p < .001. Table 4 lists these ratings in descending order. The inclusion of the five target groups of Study 2 allowed us to test whether the assumptions about the ordering of these groups with respect to their perceived power were indeed borne out. As expected, both Americans and capitalists were perceived as highly powerful. Further, the hierarchy of perceived power from capitalists being most powerful to Roma and Sinti being least powerful was both significant as a linear trend, and all group differences were significant in Bonferroni-corrected paired t-tests (α = .005). At the level of the 32 social groups, mean ratings of power, ICC(2,k) = .997, were unrelated to the ratings of likeability, ICC(2,k) = .992, r = −.04, p = .83, and positively related to ratings of threat, ICC(2,k) = .995, r = .56, p = .001. Thus, more powerful groups were seen as more threatening but neither as more nor as less likeable.

Bonferroni-corrected zero-order correlations between the three generalised political attitudes and ratings of likeability and threat (Table 4) showed similar patterns for RWA and SDO but not for conspiracy mentality. To formally test this, we conducted vector correlations between the Fisher r-to-z-transformed correlations. Results show highly similar correlations for RWA and SDO with likeability, r = .94, and threat, r = .96, ps < .001, whereas conspiracy mentality did neither show the same correlation pattern with likeability ratings as RWA, r = −.02, p = .87, or SDO, r = −.27, p = .13, nor for threat ratings, r = −.14, p = .45, with RWA, r = −.28, p = .12, and SDO correlations.

Specifically, the results revealed that conspiracy mentality was associated with lower ratings of likeability for politicians and capitalist as well as greater perceptions of threat coming from politicians, power companies, managers, capitalists, physicists and Turks. In contrast, RWA predicted greater ratings of likeability for power companies and managers and lower liking for out-groups (Jews, Muslims, Foreigners, Roma and Sinti, and asylum seekers), poor people (unemployed, drug addicts and homeless), feminists, gay men and artists. With a few exceptions (Jews, artists and homeless), the same groups were also seen as threatening, as were Turks and welfare recipients. Results for SDO were highly similar with SDO predicting perceptions of threat for largely the same groups (except Roma and Sinti and drug addicts), less liking for largely the same groups (except drug addicts but additionally less liking for feminists, Muslims, gay men, Turks and welfare recipients) and like RWA greater liking of power companies (but not managers).

To formally underline the fact that high-power groups were seen as less likeable but more threatening by people high in conspiracy mentality, we treated the 32 social groups as cases and computed correlations between their power ratings and the Fisher r-to-z-transformed correlations of the likeability and threat rating with conspiracy mentality. Results showed that indeed greater power was associated with more negative relations between conspiracy mentality and likeability, r = −.35, p = .05, whereas the relation between conspiracy mentality and threat ratings became more positive with increasing power, r = .47, p = .006. An opposite pattern emerged for RWA and SDO for which increasing power led to more positive relations with likeability ratings, r = .70 for RWA and r = .75 for SDO, and more negative relations with threat ratings, r = −.72 for RWA and r = −.76 for SDO, all ps < .001.

However, our hypotheses concerned the role of generalised political attitudes in the intraindividual relationship between power and likeability/threat. We were particularly interested in whether individuals' degree of conspiracy mentality would be associated with their more negative evaluation of powerful groups. To address whether this was the case, we calculated for each participant whether his or her ratings of power were associated with his or her ratings of likeability and threat across the 32 groups. Positive scores on the power–likeability coefficient indicated that participants rated more powerful groups as more likeable, whereas positive scores on the power–threat coefficient indicated that they perceived groups as increasingly threatening with increasing power. We hypothesised that power and threat should be more highly positively correlated, and power and likeability should be more highly negatively correlated, with increasing conspiracy mentality. We expected the reverse pattern for SDO and RWA. To test these hypotheses, we conducted two multiple regression analyses with the Fisher r-to-z-transformed intraindividual correlations as criteria, conspiracy mentality, RWA and SDO as predictors and an alpha level of α = .025 to account for conducting two analyses.

Whereas individual associations between power and likeability revolved around zero, average r = −.02, SD = .31, (ranging from r = −.77 to r = .74), the relation between power and threat was positive on average (r = .38, SD = .31; ranging from r = −.60 to r = .80). As expected, higher levels of conspiracy mentality were associated with more negative individual-level correlations between power and likeability, ß = −.17, p = .002, whereas the opposite was true for RWA, ß = .35, p < .001, and SDO, ß = .21, p = .001 (Figure 2(a)). In contrast, this pattern reversed for the association of power and threat with conspiracy mentality as a positive predictor, ß = .14, p = .02, unlike RWA, ß = −.27, p < .001, and SDO, ß = −.17, p = .01 (Figure 2(b)). Thus, people high in conspiracy mentality rated higher-power groups as less likeable and as more threatening, whereas people high in RWA and SDO had a more positive view of higher-power groups and perceived lower-power groups as more threatening. Importantly, all three effects were incremental to each other. A stepwise procedure with RWA entered in a first step, SDO in a second and conspiracy mentality in a third step yielded significant increases in the explained variance for each step, ps < .02. Exploratory analyses including the cross-products revealed no significant interaction effects.

image

Figure 2. Unique relations between conspiracy mentality, right-wing authoritarianism (RWA), and social dominance orientation (SDO) when simultaneously predicting intraindividual correlations of (a) power and likeability (R2corr = .26), and (b) power and threat (R2corr = .15). Point estimates are plotted for each predictor at −1 standard deviation (SD) and +1SD at the mean value of the other predictors. Regressions are based on Fisher r-to-z-transformed coefficients that were inverse-transformed for the plots.

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Discussion

Study 3 replicated the findings of Study 2 for a wide variety of social groups. The results supported the hypothesis that conspiracy mentality is associated with more negative attitudes towards the powerful and a perception of those in power as threatening. The opposite was true for RWA and SDO. Both were associated predominantly with more negative reactions towards low-power groups such as ethnic or religious out-groups and poor people. Further, we could show that the individual associations between power and liking versus threat were differentially predicted by conspiracy mentality in contrast to RWA and SDO.

STUDY 4

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. STUDY 1
  4. STUDY 2
  5. STUDY 3
  6. STUDY 4
  7. STUDY 5
  8. GENERAL DISCUSSION
  9. REFERENCES
  10. APPENDIX

Study 4 was conducted to replicate the results of Study 3 and test the position of conspiracy mentality within a larger nomological network of personality constructs. Specifically, as conspiracy beliefs have previously been associated with powerlessness (Abalakina-Paap et al., 1999), anomia (Goertzel, 1994), death anxiety (Newheiser et al., 2011), lack of control (McCauley & Jacques, 1979) and general personality factors such as agreeableness (Swami et al., 2011), we assessed all these measures to (i) test their relation to conspiracy mentality and (ii) test whether any of these variables performs better in explaining individuals' associations of power with disliking and perceived threat. If that was the case, it could be that the associations reported in the first two studies were merely because of an individual difference confounded with conspiracy mentality rather than conspiracy mentality itself. Moreover, we aimed to further elucidate the effect of perceived threat. Previous research has identified subtypes of threat (for a review and meta-analysis, see Riek, Mania, & Gaertner, 2006). In particular, other groups can pose a realistic threat (i.e. threats that concern the ‘physical or material well-being’, the ‘political and economic power’ and, ultimately, the ‘very existence’ of the in-group; Stephan & Stephan, 1996, p. 418) or a symbolic threat (i.e. threats based on ‘group differences in morals, values, standards, beliefs and attitudes’; Stephan & Stephan, 1996, p. 418) to one's in-group. Given that most conspiracies are more concerned with threats to life and health (e.g. assassinations, spread of diseases such as HIV and retention of scientific progress that could improve material situations), it is conceivable that powerful groups are predominantly seen as a realistic threat, not a symbolic threat, by people high in conspiracy mentality. We thus differentiated between the two types of threat to explore which one's perception was affected by conspiracy mentality.

We expected to fully replicate the findings of Study 3 with conspiracy mentality predicting stronger association of power with threat and less or even negative association of power with likeability. Importantly, this effect should not be due to shared variance with any other variable (i.e. the inclusion of any other variable should not diminish this effect). Again, we had opposite predictions for RWA and SDO (although we made no specific prediction regarding the incremental validity over and above other variables).

Method

Participants

We recruited a sample of online participants via an e-mail list of a German university. As in Study 3, we excluded all participants who either did not complete the experiment or did not respond to more than 10% of the questions. The remaining sample consisted of N = 280 participants (97 men, 181 women, 2 unidentified; Mage = 25.63 years, SDage = 8.13 years). As in the previous studies, most participants had no migration background (n = 241) and a high level of education (‘Abitur’: n = 156; university degree: n = 103). At the end of the study, participants could leave their e-mail address to be included in a lottery to win €20 (five participants) or €10 (ten participants).

Power, likeability, realistic threat and symbolic threat

The same 32 groups as in Study 3 were rated on perceived power and likeability. The ratings of threat were differentiated into realistic threat (‘How threatening are these groups to your material and physical well-being?’) and symbolic threat (‘How threatening are these groups to your values, convictions, norms, and general lifestyle?’; order counterbalanced).

Generalised political attitudes

The measures of conspiracy mentality, RWA and SDO were identical to Studies 2 and 3.4

Additional measures
Spheres of control

Belief in conspiracies has often been connected to control deprivation (McCauley & Jacques, 1979), and recent experimental studies have shown that depriving individuals of control increases their endorsement of specific conspiracy theories (Sullivan et al., 2010). We thus included a measure to tap into personal, interpersonal and socio-political spheres of perceived control (Paulhus, 1983). Sample items include ‘It is difficult for people to have much control over the things politicians do in office’ (socio-political control) or ‘Even when I'm feeling self-confident about most things, I still seem to lack the ability to control social situations’ (interpersonal control) and were rated on scales ranging from 1 to 7.

Powerlessness

Lack of power is also associated with conspiracy endorsement (Abalakina-Paap et al., 1999). We thus included a measure of powerlessness as control variable. Participants indicated their agreement with seven items partly taken from the literature (e.g. ‘The problems of life are sometimes too big for me.’; Mackey & Ahlgren, 1977) and partly purpose designed (e.g. ‘I often feel powerless to achieve what I want.’) on a scale from 1 (do not agree at all) to 4 (fully agree).

Anomia

Another variable that has been discussed in relation to conspiracy beliefs is the sociological concept of anomia (Goertzel, 1994). Broadly defined as ‘a loss of normative orientation and of control over situations and goals of action’ (Legge, Davidov, & Schmidt, 2008; p. 249), anomia scales tap into the perception that society has become too complicated to understand. We included seven items to measure anomia (e.g. ‘Things have gotten so confusing that nobody really knows what is what anymore’; Glatzer & Zapf, 1984). Participants indicated their agreement on scales from 1 (do not agree at all) to 4 (fully agree).

Death anxiety

Because death anxiety can lead to conspirational thinking (Newheiser et al., 2011), we compiled a relatively short but internally consistent measure of death anxiety by taking the five items with the highest loadings on the first factor from the Revised Death Anxiety Scale (Thorson & Powell, 1992; Items 2, 3, 12, 14 and 18). The five items (e.g. ‘The idea of never thinking again after I die frightens me.’) were accompanied by scales ranging from 1 (do not agree at all) to 7 (fully agree).

Hyperactive agency detection (HAAD)

Conspiracy theories often assume agency and intentionality either where there is none or where it is highly unlikely. Thus, a hyperactive tendency to detect or assume agency may be a predictor of conspirational thinking. As a proxy of HAAD, we included a measure of anthropomorphism. Anthropomorphism refers to the tendency to attribute human-like characteristics to nonhuman agents, thus presuming agency where actually none exists. As a measure of this form of agency presumption, we included the 15-item Individual Differences in Anthropomorphism Questionnaire (e.g. ‘To what extent does a television set experience emotions?’; Waytz, Cacioppo, & Epley, 2010) rated on scales from 1 (not at all) to 11 (very strongly).

Big Five personality factors

Previous research has reported a moderate negative correlation between conspiracy endorsement and agreeableness (Swami et al., 2011). To once more control for general personality variables, we included a short Big Five inventory (Rammstedt & John, 2005). Items such as ‘I am rather reserved, shy’ (extraversion) were rated on 5-point scales ranging from very inapplicable to very applicable.

Order of scales

Participants first completed two scales on conspiracy beliefs, the one described earlier and the CBQ (see Footnote 4). The order of these two scales was counterbalanced between participants. Afterwards, the fixed order of scales was RWA, SDO, powerlessness, anomia, Big Five inventory, spheres of control, death anxiety, perceived power and likeability of the 32 social groups. The following two scales on perceived threat were again counterbalanced between participants (orthogonally to the first counterbalancing). Finally, participants completed the anthropomorphism scale and gave demographic information. No other variables were included in the study.

Results

As in the previous studies, conspiracy mentality showed a small-to-moderate correlation with RWA and SDO (Table 5). Conceptually replicating previous results, the propensity to believe in conspiracies was associated with feelings of low socio-political control, powerlessness and anomia (Table 5). Interestingly, the tendency to ascribe agency to nonhuman objects (HAAD or anthropomorphism) was also related to conspiracy mentality. In contrast, conspiracy mentality was unrelated to death anxiety or Big Five personality factors.

Table 5. Descriptive statistics and intercorrelations of all scales included in Study 4
 DescriptivesIntercorrelations
αMSD1.2.3.4.5.6.7.8.9.10.11.12.13.14.
  1. Note: N is between 278 and 280 (because of missing values). 1.–6. and 9. on scales from 1 to 7, 7.–8. on a scale from 1 to 4, 10. on a scale from 1 to 11 and 11.–15. on a scale from 1 to 5. Correlations coefficient of |r| > .21 significant at p < .00047 (Bonferroni-adjusted alpha for 105 bivariate correlations).

  2. SD, standard deviation; RWA, right-wing authoritarianism; SDO, social dominance orientation.

1. Conspiracy mentality.894.251.07              
2. RWA.812.730.92.29             
3. SDO.892.420.92.14.48            
4. Personal control.624.820.71.03.07.00           
5. Interpersonal control.794.670.94−.09−.07−.09.40          
6. Sociopolitical control.704.100.79−.23−.26−.28.11.29         
7. Powerlessness.701.980.47.27.17.08−.39−.49−.37        
8. Anomia.751.980.54.27.20.17−.36−.56−.34.72       
9. Death anxiety.922.791.82.08.08−.01−.05−.06−.13.14.13      
10. Anthropomorphism.893.691.71.31.22.06−.02.03−.04.16.14.13     
11. Extraversion.853.370.95−.02−.03−.10.16.63.19−.30−.42−.01.04    
12. Conscientiousness.693.630.69.01.11−.03.55.36.08−.32−.37−.06.02.16  
13. Openness.734.010.70.06−.14−.16.13.23.23−.10−.16−.04.06.15.16  
14. Neuroticism.803.080.95.06.05−.04−.22−.30−.15.48.52.24.06−.25−.16.09 
15. Agreeableness.602.900.75−.10−.13−.26−.02.13.11−.01−.14−.06−.08.13−.01.09−.04

The ratings of power and likeability were very similar to the data pattern from Study 3. To empirically test the replicability of the results of Study 3, we computed vector correlations of the results of Studies 3 and 4 (the corresponding table can be accessed at http://imhoff.socialpsychology.org/files). The power ratings resulted in an almost identical pattern in Study 4 as they did in Study 3, r > .99, p < .001. More importantly, we were interested to learn whether the correlations of the likeability and threat ratings with the generalised political attitudes would replicate across studies. To this end, we Fisher r-to-z-transformed the correlations and computed vector correlations across the studies. The correlation between conspiracy mentality and likeability across the groups remained highly similar, r = .86; this was also true for likeability as a function of RWA, r = .95, and SDO, r = .93, for the groups, ps < .001. For the threat ratings, we assessed global threat in Study 3 but two distinct types of threat in Study 4. Nevertheless, the correlation patterns stayed highly similar with vector correlations ranging from r = .77 to r = .92 for all three generalised attitudes and both types of threats, ps < .001.

To replicate Study 3, we computed intraindividual correlations between power and likeability, power and realistic threat, and power and symbolic threat. These were then Fisher r-to-z-transformed and entered as criterion variables in multivariate regression analyses with conspiracy mentality, RWA, SDO and all control variables as predictors. To avoid collinearity problems but to still give equal chances to all variables to add explained variance, we chose a stepwise inclusion procedure. To correct for family-wise error, we set the required alpha level for each predictor to α = .01. Results revealed that individual differences in the association of power and likeability (ranging from r = −.89 to r = .89) were predicted by RWA, ß = .34, p < .001 (Step 1, R2corr = .15), conspiracy mentality, ß = −.22, p < .001 (Step 2, ΔR2 = .04), SDO, ß = .22, p < .001 (Step 3, ΔR2 = .03), extraversion, ß = .17, p = .001 (Step 4, ΔR2 = .03), and death anxiety, ß = .14, p = .01 (Step 5, ΔR2 = .02), R2corr = .26.

The link between power and realistic threat (ranging from r = −.61 to r = .92) was predicted by RWA, −.21, p = .002 (Step 1, R2corr = .07) and conspiracy mentality, ß = .20, p = .001 (Step 2, ΔR2 = .03), R2corr = .10. Likewise, the relative strength of the individual-level association between power and symbolic threat (ranging from r = −.52 to r = .96) was only predicted by RWA, −.28, p < .001 (Step 1, R2corr = .05), and conspiracy mentality, ß = .21, p < .001 (Step 2, ΔR2 = .04), R2corr = .08.

Thus, we replicated the dissociation between conspiracy mentality and RWA (and for SDO in one case) in the reaction to high-power versus low-power groups (see Figure 3 for simple slopes based on regression analyses with only conspiracy mentality, RWA and SDO as simultaneous predictors). Importantly, no other variable provided a better explanation than conspiracy mentality. In fact, although some of the other variables added incremental validity, none did so in the same direction as conspiracy mentality. Thus, there is no support for the idea that the association between conspiracy mentality and negative reactions to high-power groups is an epiphenomenon of a more basic personality variable.

image

Figure 3. Unique relations between conspiracy mentality, right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) and social dominance orientation (SDO) when simultaneously predicting intraindividual correlations of (a) power and likeability (R2corr = .22), (b) power and realistic threat (R2corr = .11) and (c) power and symbolic threat (R2corr = .09). Point estimates are plotted for each predictor at -1 standard deviation (SD) and +1SD at the mean value of the other predictors. Regressions are based on Fisher r-to-z-transformed coefficients that were inverse-transformed for the plots.

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Discussion

First, Study 4 replicated Study 3 with regard to the unique relation of conspiracy mentality to distrust against high-power groups. No other variable provided a better explanation of this relation. Second, the study differentiated between two important types of threat: realistic and symbolic. We found that conspiracy mentality uniquely predicted both types of threat independently of RWA and SDO and did so even allowing for a large number of personality variables to be entered as controls.

The previous studies provided convincing and converging evidence that conspiracy mentality is robustly associated with negative reactions towards groups in power (in contrast to RWA and SDO) and that it does so above and beyond other individual difference variables. We conducted a final study to test whether these negative attitudes to powerful groups are consequential in actually encouraging opposition to those in power.

STUDY 5

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. STUDY 1
  4. STUDY 2
  5. STUDY 3
  6. STUDY 4
  7. STUDY 5
  8. GENERAL DISCUSSION
  9. REFERENCES
  10. APPENDIX

Although prejudice and negative attitudes towards other groups are among the most important and probably the most thoroughly investigated consequences of generalised political attitudes, they are not the only ones. Generalised political attitudes are also consequential in that they predict attributions of critical events and behavioural intentions following such events. While the previous three studies point to the dark side of conspiracy mentality in that it predicts prejudice, they also invite speculation about a previously unnoticed relationship to attribution and social action. In contrast to both SDO and RWA, which predicted prejudice against low-power groups, conspiracy mentality explicitly predicted prejudice against those in power. This observation is in line with the finding that belief in conspiracies is particularly prevalent at both ends of the political left–right spectrum and relates to general distrust in political institutions (Imhoff & Decker, 2013; Inglehart, 1987). As whoever is in power usually defines the relative mid-range of the political spectrum, being at one of its ends implies a strong opposition towards those in power and in all likelihood low levels of trust in the ruling forces. In contrast, values such as tradition, conformity and security are positively associated with higher trust in institutions (Devos, Spini, & Schwartz, 2002) as well as with RWA (Feather, 1996). We therefore propose that attributions that question the trustworthiness of institutions and intentions to change the status quo are differentially predicted by conspiracy mentality and RWA. We reasoned that whereas RWA should involve submission to authorities, conspiracy mentality should predict the opposite: attributing blame to authorities and intending to act (individually and collectively) against the perceived conspirators.

Study 5 was conducted in the context of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the resulting catastrophe in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Data were collected between 15 March 2011 and 29 April 2011 (i.e. between 4 and 49 days after the incident). We expected a dissociation between conspiracy mentality and RWA such that participants with a strong conspiracy mentality would be more prone to attribute the disaster to intentional misconduct or gross negligence by authorities (e.g. the power company owning the plant or the Japanese government), whereas people who endorse authoritarianism would defend these authorities, for example, by blaming the incident on chance. Furthermore, RWA should be associated with opposition to a nuclear phase-out, whereas conspiracy mentality should be associated with intentions to act in support of such a phase-out.

Method

Participants

A total of 1852 participants were recruited for an online study on ‘Emotional reactions to Fukushima’ via online bulletin boards (5.6%) and an e-mail listserv (94.4%; soscisurvey.de). The 1086 women and 735 men ranged in age from 14 to 80 years (M = 30.68 years, SD = 11.97 years) and were German residents. Most had finished high school with the ‘Abitur’ (36%) or even received a university degree (47.1%) and had no migration background (89.4%).

Measures
Conspiracy mentality and RWA

We used the same scales as in the previous three studies.

Attributions of responsibility

Six items assessed the degree to which participants attributed the nuclear catastrophe to misconduct of authorities. Three items clearly blamed authorities for intentional misconduct (unscrupulous greed of the operating company, spoofing by a nuclear power lobby and wrong political decisions), two items only indirectly blamed authorities for negligent behaviour that was not clearly intentional (human error and outdated safety-engineering) and one item reflected an attribution that did not blame institutions at all (a sequence of chance accidents). Participants indicated the degree to which they believed that each of these reasons was responsible for the catastrophe on slider scales ranging from 0 to 100.

Behavioural intentions

Participants estimated the likelihood that they would engage in eight different anti-nuclear actions over the course of the next 6 months on a scale from 1 (rather unlikely) to 5 (definitely). These actions ranged from signing an online petition or donating money to an environmental organisation to organizing or participating in protests and blockades.

Support for nuclear phase-out

To estimate participants' attitudes regarding whether the government should phase out the civil use of nuclear power, they indicated their agreement with four statements, two in favour of and two in opposition to a nuclear phase-out. Example items read ‘Nuclear power is an expedient technology that we should not give up’ and ‘We should back out of the nuclear energy programme as soon as possible’, respectively.

Procedure

After a short questionnaire on emotional reactions to the Fukushima incident not reported here,5 participants indicated their attributions of responsibility, their behavioural intentions and their support for nuclear phase-out. They then completed the two scales tapping into conspiracy mentality and RWA before providing demographic information. No other variables were included in the study.

Results

The items measuring attributions to intentional misconduct, attributions to nonintentional human error, behavioural intentions to protest and support for nuclear phase-out were all averaged to create scales that proved to be internally consistent with the exception of attributions to nonintentional human error (see Table 6 for descriptive statistics and internal consistencies). However, because the two items tapping into attributions to nonintentional human error showed almost identical correlations with conspiracy mentality and RWA they were averaged despite suboptimal reliability. We conducted regression analyses to predict three different attribution patterns, three different forms of civil engagement (plus one average of overall engagement) and attitudes towards nuclear phase-out with conspiracy mentality and RWA. To adjust for multiple testing, the alpha level of all tests was set to α = .00625.

Table 6. Descriptive statistics and intercorrelations of all scales included in Study 5
 αMSD1.2.3.4.5.6.
  1. Note: N is between 1776 and 1846 because of missing values. First two scales are from 1 (low conspiracy mentality, respectively RWA) to 7 (high conspiracy mentality, respectively RWA). Attribution rating on slider scales from 0 (has no influence on Fukushima nuclear disaster) to 100 (has strong influence on Fukushima nuclear disaster). Anti-nuclear behavioural intentions and support for nuclear phase-out from 1 (pro-nuclear) to 5 (anti-nuclear). All correlations |r| > .07 significant at p < .0023 (Bonferroni-adjusted alpha for 21 bivariate correlations).

  2. SD, standard deviation; RWA, right-wing authoritarianism; SDO, social dominance orientation.

1. Conspiracy mentality.894.161.14      
2. RWA.792.840.93.22     
3. Attribution to intentional misconduct.8467.2625.60.33−.17    
4. Attribution to nonintentional human error.3654.2122.91.14−.01.51   
5. Attribution to chance70.6827.20−.07.10−.24−.05  
6. Anti-nuclear behavioural intentions.862.390.92.19−.34.49.22−.17 
7. Support for nuclear phase-out.873.841.10.15−.38.51.22−.20.67

To test the hypothesis that conspiracy mentality and RWA would show a dissociation in their relationships to attributions concerning the nuclear disaster, we conducted separate regression analyses with conspiracy mentality and RWA simultaneously predicting the three attribution styles. As expected, conspiracy mentality was associated with attributing greater blame to intentional misconduct by humans, ß = .39, p < .001, and a greater tendency to blame even nonintentional negligence and human error, ß = .15, p < .001, but was negatively associated with attribution to chance, ß = −.10, p < .001. In contrast, the higher the RWA score, the less likely participants were to blame intentional misconduct, ß = −.26, p < .001, and the more likely they were to blame chance, ß = .12, p < .001. Differences in RWA were not associated with attribution to human error, ß = -.04, p > .05.

A similar dissociation emerged for intentions to engage in anti-nuclear protests. Whereas conspiracy mentality was related to greater intentions to engage in behaviour ranging from protest notes to civil disobedience, ß = .28, p < .001, the opposite was true for RWA, ß = −.40, p < .001. Because recent work on collective action has shown different routes may lead to either normative or non-normative collective action (Tausch et al., 2011), we explored whether the same was true in this case. We created separate scales tapping into the willingness to engage individually (sign an online petition, base one's voting decision on the issue, accept higher energy bills to terminate nuclear power, donate to an environmental organisation and join an interest group in online social networks; α = .80), the willingness to participate in normative collective action (organise a citizen protest and join an anti-nuclear demonstration; α = .64) and the willingness to engage in non-normative collective action (join an act of civil disobedience to block a nuclear waste transport). Regressions parallel to those reported earlier yielded the same pattern of results for all three forms of protest: conspiracy mentality was a significant positive predictor of individual engagement, ß = .26, p < .001, normative collective action, ß = .24, p < .001 and non-normative collective action, ß = .19, p < .001. In contrast, RWA was a significant negative predictor of all three modes of action, ß = −.40, ß = −.35 and ß = −.19, respectively, ps < .001.

A parallel pattern emerged for support for nuclear phase-out, for which conspiracy mentality was a positive predictor, ß = .25, p < .001, and RWA was a negative predictor, ß = -.43, p < .001. One might be tempted to argue that the concrete behavioural intentions were related to conspiracy mentality only because of their association with the more general support for a phase-out. We thus entered general support for nuclear phase-out as a control variable into a reanalysis of the regression of the behavioural intentions on conspiracy mentality and RWA. The general pattern remained unaltered, with conspiracy mentality, ß = .13, p < .001, RWA, ß = -.15, p < .001, and support for nuclear phase-out, ß = .59, p < .001, all predicting unique parts of the variance in behavioural intentions, R2 = .47, p < .001. The same was true for the analyses examining the three different subscales of behavioural intentions (individual engagement, normative collective action and non-normative collective action) separately.

Discussion

Study 5 further supported the previous findings of a distinct and coherent conspiracy mentality that is different from authoritarianism. The study showed that conspiracy mentality and RWA not only inversely predicted attributions of responsibility concerning the Fukushima disaster (predominantly to intentional misconduct for conspiracy mentality, predominantly to chance for RWA) but also dissociated in their associations with participants' behavioural intentions concerning reactions to the incident. Conspiracy mentality was associated with a higher self-rated likelihood of engaging in different kinds of protest against nuclear power, whereas authoritarianism was negatively related to such intentions. These findings shed light on conspiracy mentality and its role in social change. Scepticism about those in power may not only motivate negatively biased views of powerful people and groups (Studies 2 to 4) but may also lead to specific attributions blaming negative incidents on such groups and trigger behaviour aimed at challenging the status quo and its prevailing power relations.

GENERAL DISCUSSION

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. STUDY 1
  4. STUDY 2
  5. STUDY 3
  6. STUDY 4
  7. STUDY 5
  8. GENERAL DISCUSSION
  9. REFERENCES
  10. APPENDIX

In five studies, we found empirical support for the idea that conspiracy mentality has all the hallmarks of a coherent and distinct generalised political attitude. Most importantly, conspiracy mentality uniquely predicted prejudice over and above other well-established generalised political attitudes (RWA and SDO; Studies 2 to 4). Further, conspiracy mentality had predictive validity for attributions blaming authorities for intentional misconduct as well as unintentional error and for behavioural intentions aimed at undermining or at least influencing these authorities.

In particular, we tested specific predictions regarding the correlates of these three generalised political attitudes. Whereas all three unidirectionally predicted anti-Semitism, that is, prejudice against a group that is paradoxically often perceived not only as a minority suffering from discrimination but also as powerful (Fiske et al., 2002), the three constructs showed clear dissociations in their relationships to prejudice against (i) powerful groups that are not victims of discrimination and (ii) unequivocally low-power groups. Conspiracy mentality was specifically associated with disliking and feeling threatened by powerful groups. This is compatible with the general structure of conspiracy theories: blaming the malicious intent of conspiring groups for negative events. Logically, these conspirators can only be blamed if they are perceived as sufficiently powerful to implement their alleged plots. In contrast, generalised political attitudes that legitimise the status quo (SDO) or that are partly defined by submission under whichever authority is in power (RWA) produced a contrasting pattern: individuals high in SDO or RWA perceived powerful groups as being more likeable and less threatening than they perceived low-power groups.

This finding resonates well with previous results that suggest members of powerless groups are more likely to endorse conspiracy beliefs than members of powerful groups (Goertzel, 1994; Stempel, Hargrove, & Stempel, 2007). Blaming one's group's powerless position on the system of conspiracies (rather than oneself) is more advantageous for both personal and collective self-esteem (Crocker, Luthanen, Broadnax, & Blaine, 1999). Conspiracy thinking may thus be an effective way to cope with a negative social identity when group boundaries are not permeable and individuals cannot just leave their in-group (e.g. the group of people low in power). Social identity theory posits that individuals can either change their view on the in-group in comparison with other groups by changing the dimension of comparison (social creativity) or change the status quo by social actions. Conspiracy thinking may form a cognitive operation of lending a plausible explanation for the lack of power and facilitating changing the status quo.

We speculate that believing in a critical causal role of conspirators in bringing about negative events may make it easier to take a firm stand on complex issues such as nuclear power or the global economy. Instead of being overwhelmed by the complexities of these issues (potentially resulting in anomia), the mental shortcut of blaming individuals or groups may facilitate social action aimed at undermining the actions or goals of those perceived to be conspirators. Our research reveals an important but often neglected effect of conspiracy thinking: challenging the status quo—even if for potentially misguided reasons and irrational ideas about the goals and influence of specific groups. This may empower disadvantaged groups to take action and actively pursue their goals even in opposition to those in power. On the flipside, social protest supported by conspiracy beliefs may also be particularly prone to turn ugly by targeting single groups or individuals and using them as scapegoats.

Limitations

The major strength of the present research lies in its systematic investigation of individual differences in generalised political attitudes and their effects on prejudice and behavioural intentions using relatively large samples and producing consistent and robust results across a set of independent studies. However, a limitation of our research lies in the cross-sectional nature of the data. Future studies could make use of longitudinal approaches to explore antecedents of conspiracy mentality and more directly test the causal relationship between generalised political attitudes, prejudice towards social groups and intentions to engage in individual or collective political action.

Future directions

Other research might take a closer look at the cognitive underpinnings of conspiracy beliefs. Conspiracy beliefs provide closure on the search for an explanation for societal events and could thus be related to dispositional need for closure (but see the zero correlation in Study 1, Footnote 1) and low tolerance of ambiguity. At the same time, conspiracy theories often leave the logic of evidential reasoning to provide much more complex narratives of how events came about than a sober look at the facts would, which might be aversive for individuals seeking cognitive closure. The latter creative aspect of conspiracies suggests that it might be related to divergent thinking and potentially to other cognitive abilities such as fluid intelligence. At the same time, these cognitive abilities often come with higher standards for evidence (and often also higher status), making conspirational thinking more unlikely. It is thus open to future research to further explore the relation between general cognitive style and abilities and conspirational thinking.

Given what we know about differences in cognitive style across cultures (Nisbett, Peng, Choi, & Norenzayan, 2001), this reasoning also raises the possibility of cross-cultural differences in conspiracy mentality. Recent cross-cultural research (Bruder, Haffke, Neave, Nouripanah, & Imhoff, ) finds marked differences in mean-level conspiracy mentality across cultures corroborating the idea that conspiracy thinking is particularly rife in the Middle East. However, we know nothing about the individual-level and group-level processes responsible for such cultural differences.

If some level of conspiracy mentality can be functional for social change (as Study 5 suggests), then this begs the question whether conspiracy theories may also be able to reveal truth. Clearly, many conspiracy theories contradict available scientific evidence (e.g. theories about alien encounters). This irrational aspect is further highlighted by the fact that sometimes individuals endorse mutually incompatible conspiracy theories (e.g. Wood et al., 2012). However, sometimes conspiracy theories may harbour at least a kernel of truth. Even seemingly more extreme conspiracy theories have sometimes proven to be true—the Watergate scandal being the most well-known example. In that sense, conspiracy mentality might be best conceptualised as a continuum ranging from naïve trust in the canonical version of contemporary history to extremely paranoid conspiracy thinking. Given the multicausal and dynamic nature of most controversial world events, it is rarely possible to ultimately decide exactly the extent to which conspiracy speculation is objectively valid. However, given what we know from history, there is reason to believe that both very high and very low levels of conspiracy mentality may produce explanations for world events that are likely not objectively true. Despite its pejorative label, it is thus questionable whether the lowest possible level of conspiracy mentality is ultimately instrumental for learning the truth.

In sum, whether individuals endorse a specific conspiracy theory largely depends on whether they are prone to accept conspiracy beliefs in general. Such a ‘conspiracy mentality’ forms a generalised political attitude associated with negatively biased views of those in power and with the behavioural intention to challenge the status quo. Under specific circumstances, such conspirational thinking may be adaptive at the individual and collective levels in the service of truth and social progress. What these circumstances are and under which circumstances conspiracy mentality turns into a paranoid mindset immune to rational argument and prone to identify certain social groups as scapegoats provide an exciting agenda for future research.

  1. 1

    In their California F-Scale of authoritarianism, Adorno et al. (1950) included the subscale of projectivity that included items such as ‘Most people don't realize how much our lives are controlled by plots hatched in secret places’.

  2. 2

    Control analyses with scales representing the three types of item wording yielded identical results to the ones reported for each of the subscales.

  3. 3

    To collect some data for exploratory analyses regarding potential correlates of conspiracy mentality, we included measures at the end of the study that were not collected for all but each only for a subsample of participants. As neither a scenario measure of Hostile Attribution Bias (Krahé & Möller, 2004), r = .05, p = .53, nor belief in powerful others (FKK, Krampen, 1991), r = .00, p = .95, or need for cognitive closure (Schlink & Walther, 2007), r = .12, p = .18, showed significant overlap with the Conspiracy Mentality Scale, we do not report any analyses including these variables for reasons of succinctness.

  4. 4

    We also included the Conspiracy Beliefs Questionnaire (CBQ; Darwin et al., 2011) that assesses the endorsement of specific conspiracy theories rather than a general mentality. Regressing these specific theories on all other variables showed that conspiracy mentality was a significant predictor of each specific conspiracy belief even when the other variables were included (average ß = .40). Except for this scale, no measures other than the ones reported here were included.

  5. 5

    Emotional reactions to the Fukushima incident were used as a cover story to motivate participation. Results revealed that conspiracy mentality was generally related to greater anger, fear, guilt and sadness in response to the incident. Details are available on request.

REFERENCES

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. STUDY 1
  4. STUDY 2
  5. STUDY 3
  6. STUDY 4
  7. STUDY 5
  8. GENERAL DISCUSSION
  9. REFERENCES
  10. APPENDIX

APPENDIX

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. STUDY 1
  4. STUDY 2
  5. STUDY 3
  6. STUDY 4
  7. STUDY 5
  8. GENERAL DISCUSSION
  9. REFERENCES
  10. APPENDIX

Table A1. Conspiracy Mentality Scale in English and German with Corrected Item-Total Correlations.

 Corrected Item-Total Correlations
 Study 1aStudy 2Study 3Study 4Study 5
  1. (R) reverse-coded item

1. There are many very important things happening in the world about which the public is not informed. Es geschehen sehr viele wichtige Dinge in der Welt, über die die Öffentlichkeit nie informiert wird..43.52.53.49.49
2. Those at the top do whatever they want. Die da oben machen ja eh was sie wollen..45.45.59.47.56
3. A few powerful groups of people determine the destiny of millions. Ein paar mächtige Personengruppen bestimmen über das Schicksal von Millionen von Menschen..53.60.58.61.61
4. There are secret organizations that have great influence on political decisions. Es gibt geheime Organisationen, die großen Einfluss auf politische Entscheidungen haben..77.74.66.74.71
5. I think that the various conspiracy theories circulating in the media are absolute nonsense. (R) Die verschiedenen in den Medien zirkulierenden Verschwörungstheorien halte ich für ausgemachten Blödsinn. (R).48.43.47.61.43
6. Politicians and other leaders are nothing but the string puppets of powers operating in the background. Politiker und andere Führungspersönlichkeiten sind nur Marionetten der dahinterstehenden Mächte..65.64.63.58.59
7. Most people do not recognize to what extent our life is determined by conspiracies that are concocted in secret. Die meisten Menschen erkennen nicht, in welchem Ausmaß unser Leben durch Verschwörungen bestimmt wird, die im Geheimen ausgeheckt werden..79.75.64.72.73
8. There is no good reason to distrust governments, intelligence agencies, or the media. (R) Es gibt keinen vernünftigen Grund, Regierungen, Geheimdiensten oder Medien zu misstrauen. (R).32.36.53.41.43
9. International intelligence agencies have their hands in our everyday life to a much larger degree than people assume. Die internationalen Geheimdienste mischen viel mehr in alltäglichen Dingen mit, als man denkt..67.61.52.54.60
10. Secret organizations can manipulate people psychologically so that they do not notice how their life is being controlled by others. Geheime Organisationen können Leute psychisch so manipulieren, dass diese nicht wissen, dass ihr Leben von außen bestimmt wird..68.63.56.58.63
11. There are certain political circles with secret agendas that are very influential. Es gibt bestimmte politische Zirkel, die geheime Pläne verfolgen und sehr viel Einfluss haben..70.73.65.70.70
12. Most people do not see how much our lives are determined by plots hatched in secret. Die meisten Menschen machen sich keine Vorstellung davon, wie sehr unser Leben bestimmt wird von im Geheimen geschmiedeten Plänen..80.77.71.69.77

(R) reverse-coded item

Table A2. Original German item wording, English translation and corrected item-total correlation for three purpose-designed prejudice scales in Study 2

 rit
Antiziganism 
Es würde mich überhaupt nicht stören, Roma und Sinti als Nachbarn zu haben. (R) (I would not mind at all to have Roma and Sinti as neighbours.).63
Dass Roma und Sinti mehr klauen als normale Deutsche davon bin ich überzeugt. (I am convinced that Roma and Sinti steal more than normal Germans.).74
Es wäre besser, keine Roma und Sinti im Land zu haben. (It would be better to have no Roma or Sinti in the country.).71
Die Verfolgung der Roma und Sinti hängt auch mit deren Weigerung zusammen, sich an herrschende Normen anzupassen. (The persecution of Roma and Sinti is connected with their refusal to adjust to the dominant norms.).50
Ich gehöre zu denen, die keine Roma und Sinti mögen. (I belong to those who do not like Roma or Sinti.).73
Viele Roma und Sinti erziehen ihre Kinder zu anderen Werten und Fähigkeiten, als hier gebraucht werden, um erfolgreich zu sein. (Many Roma and Sinti teach their children different values and abilities than are needed to be successful.).42
Wenn man sich den Anteil Krimineller unter den Roma und Sinti anschaut, so ist der bestimmt höher als z.B. bei Deutschen. (If one inspects the crime rate among Roma and Sinti, it is for sure higher than that of, for instance, Germans.).76
Ich kann es gut verstehen, wenn man etwas gegen Roma und Sinti hat. (I can sympathize with having something against Roma and Sinti.).77
Dass Roma und Sinti in so vielen verschiedenen Ländern verfolgt wurden, ist für mich ein Zeichen dafür, dass es zumindest zum Teil auch an ihnen selber liegt. (That Roma and Sinti have been persecuted in so many countries is an indication that it is at least partially their own fault.).74
Anti-Americanism 
Die USA als 'Schlachtbank der Indianer' und dem 'Gefängnis Afrikas' haben bis heute nichts aus ihrer Geschichte gelernt. (Until today, the USA as the ‚Shambles of American Indians‘ and ‚Prison of Africa‘ have learned nothing from their history.).57
Die amerikanische Verfassung ist ein leuchtendes Vorbild für Demokratien weltweit. (R) (The American constitution is a shining example for democracies worldwide)..20
Die amerikanische Regierung wird kontrolliert von einer Lobby aus Öl- und Waffenindustrie. (The American government is controlled by a lobby of oil and weapon industries).44
Ich finde es gut, wie die USA versuchen, Frieden und Demokratie in andere Länder zu bringen. (R) (I like how the USA tries to bring peace and democracy to other countries)..36
Meiner Meinung nach sind Amerikaner arrogant und oberflächlich. (In my view Americans are arrogant and superficial.).52
Die USA sind der größte Kriegstreiber weltweit. (The USA is the world's greatest warmonger)..64
Die USA spielen sich als Weltpolizei auf und kriegen noch nicht mal ihre eigenen Probleme in den Griff. (The USA acts up as the world police when they can't even get their own problems under control)..72
Amerika hat es nie geschafft, eine eigene Kultur zu entwickeln, so wie Europa eine hat. (America has never succeeded in developing a culture like Europe)..59
Anti-Capitalism 
Ehrliche Arbeit wird heute in Zeiten von internationalen Finanzjongleuren viel zu wenig geschätzt. (In today's times of international financial speculators, honest work is not being appreciated enough anymore.).44
Manche Finanzinvestoren verschwenden keinen Gedanken an die Menschen, deren Arbeitsplätze sie vernichten - sie bleiben anonym, haben kein Gesicht, fallen wie.49
Heuschreckenschwärme über Unternehmen her, grasen ab und ziehen weiter. (Some investors don't waste a thought on the people whose jobs they destroy. They remain anonymous and faceless, raiding companies like a cloud of locusts: grazing them and leaving them deserted.) 
Multinationale Konzerne sind schuld an den meisten Problemen der Welt. (Multinational corporations are to be blamed for most of the world's problems.).59
Die Bundesregierung sollte nicht nur Mindestlöhne, sondern auch Höchstverdienste für gierige Manager gesetzlich festlegen. (Federal government should not only implement minimum wages by law, but also maximum wages for greedy managers.).50
Ich mag das Gerede von den 'Heuschrecken', die böswillig Firmen zerschlagen nicht. (R) (I don't like this tattle of ‘locusts’ that maliciously shatter companies.).29
Durch wirtschaftliche Interessen verkommt unsere soziale Marktwirtschaft zum puren Kapitalismus. (Economic interests push our system away from protecting vulnerable groups and toward pure competition).64
Ohne Wirtschaftsmanager und Spekulanten wäre es um den deutschen Wohlstand heute nicht so gut bestellt. (R) (Without corporate executives and speculators German prosperity wouldn't be in such a good position.).23
Ein großes Problem am momentanen Kapitalismus ist, dass große Hedgefonds nur Profit machen wollen. (A huge problem of today's capitalism is that hedge funds only want to make profits.).65
Firmenmanager haben vor lauter Geldgier alle moralischen Werte vergessen. (As a result of their greed, CEOs have lost all their morals.).64
Skrupelloses Profitstreben bringt unser ganzes Wirtschaftssystem in Misskredit. (Unscrupulous profit seeking discredits our whole economic system.).57
Allen auf der Welt würde es besser gehen, wenn es weniger internationale Finanzspekulanten gäbe. (Everybody in this world would be better off if there were fewer international financial speculators.).59