Grab your tinfoil hats.
If you’re certain that the moon landing was a hoax or that the 9/11 attacks were an inside job, a new study suggests that these conspiratorial beliefs may be linked to your stress levels.
A team of UK researchers from Anglia Ruskin University recruited 420 volunteers (225 women and 195 men), aged 28 to 70, and questioned them about conspiracy theories. Additionally, the participants were asked to rate their anxiety levels and social status, and indicate any stressful life events that had occurred in the last six months.
The findings, which appear in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, reveal that a stronger belief in conspiracy theories was linked to having both a greater level of self-reported stress and a higher number of recent stressful life events.
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Further, the researchers found that men and women didn’t significantly differ in their beliefs in conspiracy theories, but younger participants were more likely to believe in conspiracies than older ones. There was also no significant correlation between belief in conspiracy theories and social status.
It’s important to point out that the researchers aren’t saying that stress and anxiety cause conspiratorial thinking, or vice versa — they’ve simply found a statistically significant link between them. Additionally, the study only included 420 study participants who may not be representative of the general population. Still, these preliminary findings could warrant further investigation into what’s going on here.
The researchers came up with some reasons why stress and conspiracy beliefs may be linked.
“Stressful situations increase the tendency to think less analytically,” lead researcher and psychology professor Viren Swami in a press release. “An individual experiencing a stressful life event may begin to engage in a particular way of thinking, such as seeing patterns that don’t exist.”
He says that stress often leads to feeling out-of-control, so people may turn to conspiracy theories to “reinstall a sense of control or order.”
“Therefore stressful life events may sometimes lead to a tendency to adopt a conspiracist mind-set,” he explains. “Once this worldview has become entrenched, other conspiracy theories are more easily taken on board.”
However, when it comes to conspiratorial thinking, there’s likely a number of other forces at play. Previous research has found that people with low self-esteem are more susceptible to conspiratorial thinking, as well as a lack of trust in authority.
There’s also research that argues that, mathematically speaking, it’s impossible that conspiracy theories could be kept quiet.