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Probability and conspiratorial thinking


Kovic, Marko; Füchslin, Tobias (2018). Probability and conspiratorial thinking. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 32(3):390-400.

Abstract

Conspiracy theories as alternative explanations for events and states of affairs enjoy widespread popularity. We test one possible explanation for why people are prone to conspiratorial thinking: We hypothesize that conspiratorial thinking as an explanation for events increases as the probability of those events decreases. In order to test this hypothesis, we have conducted five experiments in which participants were exposed to different information about probabilities of fictional events. The results of all experiments support the hypothesis: The lower the probability of an event, the stronger participants embrace conspiratorial explanations. Conspiratorial thinking, we conclude, potentially represents a cognitive heuristic: A coping mechanism for uncertainty.

Abstract

Conspiracy theories as alternative explanations for events and states of affairs enjoy widespread popularity. We test one possible explanation for why people are prone to conspiratorial thinking: We hypothesize that conspiratorial thinking as an explanation for events increases as the probability of those events decreases. In order to test this hypothesis, we have conducted five experiments in which participants were exposed to different information about probabilities of fictional events. The results of all experiments support the hypothesis: The lower the probability of an event, the stronger participants embrace conspiratorial explanations. Conspiratorial thinking, we conclude, potentially represents a cognitive heuristic: A coping mechanism for uncertainty.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Department of Communication and Media Research
Dewey Decimal Classification:700 Arts
Uncontrolled Keywords:Cognitive biases, cognitive heuristics, conspiracy theories, conspiratorial reasoning, probability
Language:English
Date:16 April 2018
Deposited On:25 Jan 2019 12:45
Last Modified:16 Apr 2019 00:00
Publisher:Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Inc.
ISSN:0888-4080
OA Status:Green
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1002/acp.3408

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