Study links facets of schizotypy to belief in conspiracy theories

Schizotypy is associated with the belief in conspiracy theories, according to new research published in the journal Psychiatry Research.

“My main research interest is in schizotypy. Schizotypy is a personality organisation that can be seen as risk factor for schizophrenia-spectrum disorders,” explained study author David Barron of  Perdana University. “However, with the concept of schizophrenia breaking down, psychologists, such as myself, are increasingly investigating schizotypy.”

“Schizotypic traits have a similar pattern to that of schizophrenia; that is, deficits in cognition, socio-emotional function, and behaviour. While these tend not meet the clinical threshold, and at some level represent a healthy personality make-up, they can be rather extreme and become a severe problem.”

“This paper sought to build on our previous work by linking facets of schizotypy with conspiracy ideation, but also to investigate whether cognitive processes could play a role in the relationship. Investigating conspiracy theories is important as they are reliably associated with a range of negative civic, social, and health outcomes.”

In the study, Barron and his colleagues surveyed 252 women and 159 men from around the world. The majority of the participants were either from the United States, India, or the United Kingdom.

“First, we confirmed the relationship between schizotypy and conspiracy ideation,” Barron told PsyPost.

The researchers found that there was a direct link between facets of schizotypy and belief in conspiracy theories. Those who scored high on measures of “Odd Beliefs and Magical Thinking” and “Ideas of Reference” were more likely to believe in conspiracy theories, such as the theory that U.S. agencies intentionally created the AIDS epidemic.

Magical Thinking refers to seeing causal relationships between events where none exists, while Ideas of Reference refers to interpreting innocuous events as highly personally significant.

“Second, we found that analytical thinking and metacognitive factors (i.e., the ability to think about thinking; e.g., self-certainty) can reduce this outcome of beliefs in conspiracy theories,” Barron said. “These findings are important from a practical point-of-view, highlighting possible intervention routes for reducing conspiracist beliefs, either by targeting schizotypal traits indirectly or cognitive factors directly.”

The study has some limitations.

“We used an online recruitment strategy for our sample, therefore participants were unlikely to be representative of any one nation or community,” Barron explained to PsyPost. “Further, it is important to highlight that the data in this study were cross-sectional and, while these results were interpreted in line with contemporary theorising of conspiracy ideation, some caution should be exercised when interpreting causational effects.

“While inferences from these data can only be made through the sub-clinical schizotypal view, patients with psychotic disorders and those with an at-risk mental state, have also been shown to have reasoning biases or abnormalities,” Barron added. “Therefore, future research should consider not only reasoning biases, but an outcome of conspiracy beliefs through both clinical and sub-clinical expression of schizotypy.”

“It is important to mention that for the most part, schizotypy reflects a normal, healthy, personality and associated issues are only at the high-end of scorers.”

The study, “The Relationship Between Schizotypal Facets and Conspiracist Beliefs via Cognitive Processes“, was co-authored by Adrian Furnham, Laura Weis, Kevin D. Morgan, Tony Towell, and Viren Swami.