Think you know your Brexit from your Barnier, your Trump from your Trudeau, and your Russia from your, uh, raccoon? Well don’t act all high and mighty just yet, as people who think they’re great at politics might just be the most susceptible to conspiracy theories.
That’s according to a study in the European Journal of Social Psychology, picked up by PsyPost. Conducted by Joseph Vitriol and Jessecae March from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. In it, they spoke to 394 people from the US before and after the 2016 presidential election.
Each was asked to rate how well they understood six political policies and explain how each policy worked. And those that thought they understood more than others were found to be more likely to believe oddball conspiracy theories, like that the US government created AIDS or JFK was not killed by the lone gunman Lee Harvey Oswald.
“We find that inflated confidence in one’s understanding of politics and public policy is associated with the tendency to believe in political conspiracies,” Vitriol told PsyPost.
“That is, people who overestimate how well they understand political phenomena are more likely to believe that hidden actors or clandestine groups are conspiring in wide-ranging activities to influence important world actions, events, and outcomes.”
This was especially true for people who had backed the losing candidate in an election, namely Hillary Clinton in 2016. They found that after the election, these people were more likely to believe conspiracies that were related to the election.
There are some caveats to this though. The researchers note that the 2016 US election was a particularly polarizing campaign that featured “conspirational rhetoric, widely disseminated false information, and ongoing questions about the legitimacy of the electoral outcome.” So they suggest that the environment may have been “ripe” for believing in conspiracies.
And it should be noted that the sample size for this study was relatively small, and focused entirely on the 2016 election. That was unique in itself, but it’s difficult to draw too many conclusions from this study based on that alone.
There have been a fair few studies into conspiracy theories recently. Back in May, scientists suggested that how much you hate uncertainty may dictate how likely you are to believe things like Hitler is actually alive and living in Argentina. Last year, another study said conspiracy theorists just wanted to feel unique.