Angry People Are More Likely To Believe Conspiracy Theories, Study Finds

This may be an unsurprising conclusion for some.


Charlie Haigh


Charlie Haigh

Social Media and Marketing Assistant

Charlie is the social media and marketing assistant for IFLScience, she’s currently completing a undergraduate degree in Forensic Psychology.

Social Media and Marketing Assistant

portrait of young angry man

The relationship between cause and effect is still unclear.

Image credit: Ollyy / Shutterstock

A recent study has found a correlation between being prone to anger and the likelihood of believing in conspiracy theories. Additionally, the findings suggest that being actively angry works alongside trait anger to increase conspiracy theory beliefs.

While personality traits, like narcissism, have been shown to make people more susceptible to believing conspiracy theories, historically, there has been little investigation into the effects of anger on conspiracy theory beliefs. Now, research led by Kinga Szymaniak, a research associate at the University of New South Wales, sheds light on some of these effects. 


“While conspiracy theories have been around for a long time, still not much is known about how they relate to specific emotions (e.g., anger, fear, sadness),” Szymaniak told PsyPost. “In this investigation, we decided to focus on the connection between conspiracy beliefs and anger, because they seem to arise in response to similar factors and previous research has already suggested a potential relationship between the two.”

In a series of four studies, the team aimed to investigate the association between trait anger, a dispositional characteristic consisting of frequent feelings of anger, and belief in both generic conspiracy theories and those surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Study one consisted of 363 mostly female (298) Polish resident participants with the goal of providing initial information about the associations of trait anger and COVID-19 conspiracy theories. The study was conducted online using a self-report questionnaire consisting of seven items to assess trait anger.

Findings for study one showed support for the primary hypothesis as anger was seen to positively relate to COVID-19 conspiracy theory beliefs, with participants who agreed with statements such as “I flare up quickly but get over it quickly” being more likely to believe that “the COVID-19 pandemic is a global conspiracy.”


To correct the one-sided gender split in study one, study two recruited a more balanced and larger sample of 422 participants. They expanded the questionnaire to 13 items assessing COVID-19 conspiracy beliefs and found consistent results with study one, supporting the primary hypothesis.

The third study extended the range to consider other generic conspiracies. Generic conspiracy theories refer to non-specific ideas about conspiracy activities that are not related to a particular historical context, i.e. “The government uses people as patsies to hide its involvement in criminal activity.”

As in studies one and two, the third study concluded that trait anger was positively associated with generic conspiracy theory beliefs. 

“The main conclusion that the average person can take away from our investigation is that people who are more prone to experience anger are also more likely to believe in conspiracy theories, regardless of their content,” Szymaniak told PsyPost.  “However, it needs to be stressed that many individual and situational factors are likely to impact these associations. What are these factors?”


For the fourth and final study, the team looked at whether feeling angry would alter responses to conspiracy theories, particularly for those with high levels of trait anger.

Assessing 141 participants, the team constructed a novel conspiracy to avoid being influenced by pre-held beliefs or prior knowledge. The conspiracy they created was that there is a secret military basement hidden underneath Berlin Airport.

Participants were asked to complete a self-report personality questionnaire before being randomly assigned into one of two groups to write about either an angry autobiographical experience or a neutral one. They were then presented with the novel conspiracy and asked to rate the extent to which they believed it. 

While the findings of this study didn’t show induced anger to increase conspiracy levels in those who don’t show signs of trait anger, they did find that within the anger condition, those with higher trait anger had higher conspiracy beliefs than those with trait anger in the neutral group.


“The general pattern of results suggests that trait anger predicts higher conspiracy beliefs independently of trait approach motivation (anger`s key characteristic),” Szymaniak said of the findings. “Additionally, we found that manipulated anger increased conspiracy beliefs for individuals who scored higher on the trait anger scale. This is a surprising (and exciting!) finding as it suggests that there is something unique about anger that makes it a predictor of conspiracy beliefs.”

Despite the study’s findings, Szymaniak told PsyPost that there is still a lot of research yet to be done in this area, and many questions remain unanswered. 

“Is anger the cause or the consequence of conspiracy beliefs, or maybe both? Why are those who are prone to anger are more inclined to believe in conspiracy theories? What are the associations between conspiracy beliefs and other specific emotions (e.g., fear, sadness, and excitement)? Answering these questions would undeniably help to more comprehensively understand the complex phenomenon of conspiracy beliefs.”

The study is published in the Journal of Research in Personality.


[H/T: PsyPost]


  • tag
  • psychology,

  • anger,

  • Conspiracy theories