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Connection between anger and belief in conspiracy theories uncovered

By Lee Cleveland - July 21, 2023

Conspiracy theories have become increasingly prevalent, particularly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A recent study published in the  Journal of Research in Personality has shed light on the connection between anger and the endorsement of conspiracy theories. The research reveals that individuals who experience anger more frequently are more prone to believing in conspiracy theories, regardless of whether the beliefs are specific to certain events or more general in nature.

Exploring the Link between Anger and Conspiracy Theories

The researchers embarked on this study due to the growing interest in conspiracy theories and the need to understand why some people are more inclined to believe in them than others. While previous research has examined personality traits as potential factors, they noticed a lack of focus on emotional experiences related to such traits.

Their investigation specifically honed in on the trait of anger, as it is an emotion that can significantly impact beliefs and attitudes.

Anger is an intense emotion that narrows attention and memory, potentially resulting in reduced openness to new information and opportunities.

Believing in conspiracy theories could be seen as a manifestation of this cognitive narrowing when individuals feel their needs are not met.

Prior studies on the relationship between anger and conspiracy beliefs have yielded mixed results, often focusing on the temporary experience of anger rather than the trait of anger itself. This study aimed to delve deeper into the trait of anger, which encompasses frequent and intense episodes of anger.

Unraveling the Research Findings

The initial study involved 363 Polish participants and was conducted shortly after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. It provided support for the hypothesis that trait anger is associated with belief in COVID-19 conspiracy theories.

Individuals who demonstrated higher levels of trait anger were more likely to endorse such theories, with a particular inclination toward the belief that “the COVID-19 pandemic is a global conspiracy.”

The study also revealed a positive correlation between conspiracy beliefs and approach motivation, indicating that individuals with a stronger tendency to pursue positive outcomes were more likely to believe in conspiracy theories.

To ensure the reliability and generalizability of the results, the researchers conducted a second study with 422 Polish residents. This time, they aimed to replicate the findings while controlling for personality traits such as narcissism and religious fundamentalism.

The results of Study 2 corroborated those of Study 1, confirming the positive relationship between trait anger and COVID-19 conspiracy beliefs. Additionally, the researchers observed positive correlations between conspiracy beliefs and narcissism as well as religious fundamentalism.

The third study focused on generic conspiracy beliefs that are not tied to a specific historical context but reflect a stable inclination to interpret the world as controlled by secretive and malevolent powerful groups. 248 Polish residents participated in Study 3, which also supported the previous findings. The anger trait was found to be positively associated with generic conspiracy beliefs, reinforcing the notion that people prone to anger are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories irrespective of their specific content.

Anger’s Influence on Conspiracy Beliefs

These findings suggest that anger itself, rather than other factors associated with trait anger, increases susceptibility to believing in conspiracy theories.

Kinga Szymaniak, one of the study’s authors and a research associate at the University of New South Wales, highlighted the importance of studying the emotional correlates of conspiracy beliefs in more detail. While the study shed light on the connection between anger and conspiracy theories, many questions remain unanswered.

Researchers are eager to explore whether anger is the cause or consequence of conspiracy beliefs, as well as the associations between conspiracy beliefs and other specific emotions such as fear, sadness, and excitement.

It is evident that people prone to anger are more inclined to believe in conspiracy theories, regardless of their content. However, it is crucial to acknowledge that various individual and situational factors likely influence these associations. Further research is needed to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the complex phenomenon of conspiracy beliefs.

As conspiracy theories continue to spread in our society, it becomes increasingly crucial to understand the underlying mechanisms that drive individuals to embrace such beliefs. By unraveling the emotional correlates of conspiracy theories, researchers aim to develop practical approaches to mitigate the harmful effects of these beliefs and improve how we manage and handle anger.

The study, “Trait anger and approach motivation are related to higher endorsement of specific and generic conspiracy beliefs“, was authored by Kinga Szymaniak, Marcin Zajenkowski, Krzysztof Fronczyk, Sarah Leung, and Eddie Harmon-Jones.


Tags: conspiracies