Narcissism and low self-esteem predict conspiracy beliefs

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Individuals who hold strong beliefs in conspiracies often also score high in narcissism and low in self-esteem, according to 2015 research.

The series of studies, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, examined individuals to determine whether self-evaluation plays a role in predicting conspiracy beliefs.

“Previous research linked the endorsement of conspiracy theories to low self-esteem,” said Aleksandra Cichocka, principal investigator and corresponding author of the study.

“We propose that conspiracy theories should rather be appealing to individuals with exaggerated feelings of self-love, such as narcissists, due to their paranoid tendencies,” she continued.

In the first study, 202 participants completed a conspiracy beliefs questionnaire, a self-esteem scale, and an individual narcissism questionnaire.  In the conspiracy beliefs questionnaire, participants rated the extent to which they agree with such statements as “A small, secret group of people is responsible for making all major world decisions, such as going to war” and “The American government permits or perpetrates acts of terrorism on its own soil, disguising its involvement.”

Scientists found that among participants, high individual narcissism and low self-esteem significantly predicted conspiracy beliefs.

In the second study, scientists sought to rule out the possibility that collective narcissism contributed to the results of the previous study.

“Because conspiracy theories often refer to malevolent actions of groups, we wanted to distinguish whether it is a narcissistic image of the self or the group that predicts the endorsement of conspiracy theories,” said Cichocka.

“For example…American collective narcissism predicted the endorsement of conspiracy theories involving foreign governments but not the American government,” she continued.

Study 2 determined that collective narcissism does not interfere with the role that individual narcissism and low self-esteem have on conspiracy beliefs.  In other words, individual narcissists with low self-esteem tend to hold beliefs in conspiracies whether or not they also exhibit collective narcissism.

The third study aimed to account for the role low-self esteem plays in conspiracy beliefs by determining its relationship with negativity toward humans in general.

Scientists found that the factor of low self-esteem can indeed be explained by general negativity.

“The effect of low self-esteem on conspiracy beliefs can be largely attributed to the fact that low self-esteem predicts negative perceptions of humanity more broadly,” Cichocka reported.

Though the studies are not able to establish a causal relationship, they do indicate that narcissism, low self-esteem, and conspiracy belief are significantly correlated.

“Narcissists might be especially prone to believe in conspiracy theories due to their elevated self-consciousness connected with exaggerated feelings of being in the center of others’ attention,” said Cichocka.