Collective narcissism predicted growth of conspiracy thinking during 2016 election, study finds

People who believe the United States is entitled to special treatment became more likely to endorse conspiratorial patterns of thinking over the course of the 2016 presidential campaign. According to new research published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, collective narcissism uniquely predicted a strengthening of conspiracy thinking in America.

The findings suggest that conspiracy theories that are linked to collective narcissism can grow more extreme in response to certain political environments.

“Previous studies showed that collective narcissists — people who are narcissistic about their groups, who exaggerate their group’s importance and think their group is not sufficiently appreciated by others — tend to believe that some specific other groups conspire to hurt and undermine their own group,” explained study author Agnieszka Golec de Zavala, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of London.

“For example, in one previous study we showed that Polish collective narcissists believed that Germans conspired so the Polish role in the peaceful overthrow of communist regimes in Central Europe was not properly recognized.

“In the present study we wanted to examine whether collective narcissism was related to a general conspiratorial mindset – a predisposition to perceive the world as a place in which out-groups are always secretly plotting against the in-group,” Golec de Zavala said.

“Such a relationship would mean that collective narcissists will tend to search for conspiring enemies, whether they are given a reason for it or not. In addition, we wanted to examine whether political campaigns strengthen this tendency among collective narcissists.”

The researchers analyzed data collected from a longitudinal study that was commissioned by University of Minnesota’s Center for the Study of Political Psychology. The study surveyed 1,685 American adults from July 2016 to November 2016.

Golec de Zavala and her colleagues found that collective narcissism statistically predicted an increase in conspiracy thinking over the course of the 2016 campaign.

Americans who agreed with statements like “The United States deserves special treatment” in July were even more likely to agree with statements like “Much of our lives are being controlled by plots hatched in secret places” in November.

“Political campaigns, especially those that use conspiracy beliefs as a tool to mobilize their electorate, are likely to mobilize collective narcissists. We found that American collective narcissism was linked to the conspiratorial mind-set and this relationship strengthened during the 2016 presidential campaign in the U.S,” Golec de Zavala told PsyPost.

“In another study, we found that collective narcissism was the strongest, after partisanship, predictor of voting for President Trump.”

The researchers controlled for the effects of age, income, gender, race, national in-group identification, education, levels of social trust, political orientation, political knowledge, authoritarianism, and need for closure.

American identification, trust, and political knowledge were associated with reduced conspiracy thinking, while higher levels of authoritarianism and need for closure were associated with greater conspiracy thinking.

But collective narcissism still predicted an increase in conspiracy thinking beyond these factors.

“We are now investigating whether collective narcissism is associated with a general hostile bias when perceiving intergroup relations i.e. a general belief that intergroup relations are always antagonistic and out-groups have hostile and aggressive intentions towards the in-group,” Golec de Zavala said.

“We believe that the general conspiratorial mindset is an aspect of such general hostile bias which contribute to collective narcissistic intergroup hostility. One important question that still needs to be addressed is whether collective narcissism causes such bias. This question is difficult to answer because collective narcissism is an individual predisposition, difficult to manipulate experimentally. We are running longitudinal studies to answer this question.”

“We believe collective narcissists are attracted to the conspiratorial mindset because conspiracy theories provide a simple explanation of why their group is not sufficiently appreciated and recognized by others – a belief crucial to collective narcissism,” Golec de Zavala added. “This reassures collective narcissists that their group is important and challenging enough to inspire envious plotting of others. This also justifies collective narcissistic intergroup hostility.”

The study, “Collective Narcissism and the Growth of Conspiracy Thinking over the Course of the 2016 United States Presidential Election: A Longitudinal Analysis“, was authored by Agnieszka Golec de Zavala and Christopher M. Federico.