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The lack of credible institutions helps conspiracy beliefs flourish

1. 2. 2024 | 296 visits

Conspiracy beliefs were originally investigated as cognitive phenomena associated with, for example, deficiencies in analytical or scientific thinking, or in connection with a person's need to search for structure in the surrounding world. Recently, researchers have been paying more attention to structural factors, such as the quality of democratic institutions and their credibility, socioeconomic inequalities, corruption, slower economic development, or low GDP. Researchers from the Slovak Academy of Sciences took a closer look at why it is important to take such indicators into account.

“Because they indicate that protective social norms and entire societies are not properly functional. If people perceive the quality of democracy in their country as bad, they do not trust the very institutions that are supposed to protect them, and they perceive high corruption and social inequality, this increases their suspicion of the elites' intentions. And it's only natural. In an unfavourable and negatively perceived social environment, the chances of disadvantaged people being threatened by elites are simply higher. Under such conditions, conspiracy beliefs do not appear as a lack of rationality of individuals, but rather as their natural reaction to a threatening reality," says Magdaléna Adamus of the Institute of Experimental Psychology of Centre of Social and Psychological Sciences SAS. 

One such factor that creates the feeling that the elites are trying to deceive and harm the people on the lower social rungs is the experienced financial insecurity. From the point of view of financially vulnerable people, the hidden motive of the elites is to profit from the caused social problems, such as wars, economic crises or high unemployment.

“The process of blaming elites undermines trust in institutions, elites and the establishment, as they are seen as complicit in the conspiracy and abuse of ordinary people. Therefore, people who live in unfavourable living conditions – for example, if they experience permanent financial insecurity or their country's public institutions are failing – may show more anti-establishment attitudes and more distrust towards the elites that they consider responsible for their situation and condition in the country," says Eva Ballová Mikušková of the Institute of Experimental Psychology of Centre of Social and Psychological Sciences SAS. 

Trust, or rather distrust, has a special and significant place among the factors associated with the support of conspiracy beliefs. Several studies confirm that low trust in institutions is not only systematically associated with increased support for such beliefs, but above all, it appears that it could be a mechanism that links experienced financial insecurity to conspiracy beliefs. In an atmosphere of widespread mistrust, conspiracy beliefs flourish, especially among those who believe they have reason to feel disadvantaged and exploited. If people feel that norms are constantly violated and that institutions do not adequately protect them, it makes sense to be vigilant.

"This is why we decided to focus in our research on the role of experienced financial insecurity and institutional trust in the process of supporting conspiracy beliefs. In our study, recently published in the British Journal of Social Psychology, we found that people who are in economic trouble often have less trust in government and institutions and thus are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories. It is important that our results apply not only in Slovakia, but in general in the entire European context. This indicates that one of the general, universal mechanisms is responsible for susceptibility to conspiracy beliefs," the researchers agreed.

The study suggests that investigating the structural and cognitive factors behind increased support of conspiracy beliefs is critically important. Understanding them may soon become essential to protecting society and its most vulnerable members from conspiracy beliefs.

More information can be found HERE

 

Foto: unsplash.com/Alexa Shutea