Karen Douglas and Robbie Sutton have made an equal intellectual contribution to this research.
Does it take one to know one? Endorsement of conspiracy theories is influenced by personal willingness to conspire
Version of Record online: 12 APR 2011
©2011 The British Psychological Society
British Journal of Social Psychology
Volume 50, Issue 3, pages 544–552, September 2011
How to Cite
Douglas, K. M. and Sutton, R. M. (2011), Does it take one to know one? Endorsement of conspiracy theories is influenced by personal willingness to conspire. British Journal of Social Psychology, 50: 544–552. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-8309.2010.02018.x
- Issue online: 2 SEP 2011
- Version of Record online: 12 APR 2011
- Received 12 May 2010; revised version received 15 December 2010
We advance a new account of why people endorse conspiracy theories, arguing that individuals use the social–cognitive tool of projection when making social judgements about others. In two studies, we found that individuals were more likely to endorse conspiracy theories if they thought they would be willing, personally, to participate in the alleged conspiracies. Study 1 established an association between conspiracy beliefs and personal willingness to conspire, which fully mediated a relationship between Machiavellianism and conspiracy beliefs. In Study 2, participants primed with their own morality were less inclined than controls to endorse conspiracy theories – a finding fully mediated by personal willingness to conspire. These results suggest that some people think ‘they conspired’ because they think ‘I would conspire’.