Karen M. Douglas

Karen M. Douglas
University of Kent | KENT · School of Psychology

PhD

About

172
Publications
281,031
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11,114
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Introduction
My primary research focus is on beliefs in conspiracy theories. I am also interested in the social psychology of human communication, including the psychology of sexist language, and communication on the Internet.
Additional affiliations
August 2005 - present
University of Kent
Position
  • Professor of Social Psychology

Publications

Publications (172)
Article
Polling data indicate that in the USA, Republicans, compared to Democrats, have been less inclined to take preventive measures against coronavirus. In three studies (Ns = 380, 430, and 393), we sought to find evidence for partisan motivations and to illuminate how they translate into attitudes, behavioral intentions and actual behaviors. Results re...
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The COVID-19 pandemic supercharged the spread of fake news, misinformation, and conspiracy theories worldwide. Using a national probability sample of adults from the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study during 2020 (17-99 years old; M=48.59, SD=13.86; 63% women, 37% men; N=41,487), we examined the associations between agreement with general consp...
Article
Anxiety associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and home confinement has been associated with adverse health behaviors, such as unhealthy eating, smoking, and drinking. However, most studies have been limited by regional sampling, which precludes the examination of behavioral consequences associated with the pandemic at a global level. Further, few s...
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Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale ... portrays a theocracy that has been installed on the heels of a catastrophic collapse in human fertility.... Women who remain fertile are highly prized. They are also kidnapped, enslaved as ‘Handmaids’, and ritually raped in order to produce offspring for the leaders of the revolution. The re...
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The present paper examines longitudinally how subjective perceptions about COVID-19, one’s community, and the government predict adherence to public health measures to reduce the spread of the virus. Using an international survey ( N = 3040), we test how infection risk perception, trust in the governmental response and communications about COVID-19...
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People differ in their general tendency to endorse conspiracy theories (that is, conspiracy mentality). Previous research yielded inconsistent findings on the relationship between conspiracy mentality and political orientation, showing a greater conspiracy mentality either among the political right (a linear relation) or amongst both the left and r...
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Despite being a defining issue in the culture war, the political psychology of abortion attitudes remains poorly understood. We address this oversight by reviewing existing literature and integrating new analyses of several large‐scale, cross‐sectional, and longitudinal datasets to identify the demographic and ideological correlates of abortion att...
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Before vaccines for COVID-19 became available, a set of infection prevention behaviors constituted the primary means to mitigate the virus spread. Our study aimed to identify important predictors of this set of behaviors. Whereas social and health psychological theories suggest a limited set of predictors, machine learning analyses can identify cor...
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Full-text available
Anxiety associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and home confinement has been associated with adverse health behaviors, such as unhealthy eating, smoking, and drinking. However, most studies have been limited by regional sampling, which precludes the examination of behavioral consequences associated with the pandemic at a global level. Further, few s...
Article
Understanding the determinants of COVID-19 vaccine uptake is important to inform policy decisions and plan vaccination campaigns. The aims of this research were to: (1) explore the individual- and country-level determinants of intentions to be vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2, and (2) examine worldwide variation in vaccination intentions. This cross-s...
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Animal minds are of central importance to debates about their rights and welfare. Remaining ignorant of evidence that animals have minds is therefore likely to facilitate their mistreatment. Studying samples of adults and students from the UK and US we found that, consistent with motivational perspectives on meat consumption, those who were more (v...
Preprint
Animal minds are of central importance to debates about their rights and welfare. Remaining ignorant of evidence that animals have minds is therefore likely to facilitate their mistreatment. Studying samples of adults and students from the UK and US we found that, consistent with motivational perspectives on meat consumption, those who were more (v...
Article
Using the label “conspiracy theory” is widely perceived to be a way of discrediting wild ideas and unsubstantiated claims. However, prior research suggests that labelling statements as conspiracy theories does not reduce people’s belief in them. In four studies, we probed this effect further, and tested the alternative hypothesis that the label “co...
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Tightening social norms is thought to be adaptive for dealing with collective threat yet it may have negative consequences for increasing prejudice. The present research investigated the role of desire for cultural tightness, triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, in increasing negative attitudes towards immigrants. We used participant-level data from...
Article
During the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. conservative politicians and the media downplayed the risk of both contracting COVID-19 and the effectiveness of recommended health behaviors. Health behavior theories suggest perceived vulnerability to a health threat and perceived effectiveness of recommended health-protective behaviors dete...
Article
During the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. conservative politicians and the media downplayed the risk of both contracting COVID-19 and the effectiveness of recommended health behaviors. Health behavior theories suggest perceived vulnerability to a health threat and perceived effectiveness of recommended health-protective behaviors dete...
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The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has caused a global health crisis. Consequently, many countries have adopted restrictive measures that caused a substantial change in society. Within this framework, it is reasonable to suppose that a sentiment of societal discontent, defined as generalized concern about the precarious state of socie...
Preprint
Previous research has demonstrated that higher levels of belief in conspiracy theories are related to higher levels of distrust toward others, greater antisocial tendencies, and more self-centeredness. These findings suggest that conspiracy believers may also be less likely to be generous. However, very little research has thus far investigated thi...
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Recent empirical and theoretical developments suggest that endorsement of conspiracy theories can arise from the frustration of social motives. Taking this further, the current review integrates theorising on processes relating to three selves—the individual, relational, and collective self and outlines their associations with conspiracy beliefs. I...
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The COVID-19 pandemic has been an ideal breeding ground for conspiracy theories. Yet, different beliefs could have different implications for individuals’ emotional responses, which in turn could relate to different behaviours and specifically to either a greater or lesser compliance with social distancing and health protective measures. In the pre...
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The present research empirically examines how different types of coping strategies are associated with belief in conspiracy theories. Conspiracy beliefs have been linked to the frustration of basic needs and seem to increase during major world events that evoke stress. Thus, we hypothesized that they may serve as a psychological response to maladap...
Article
The psychological research on conspiracy beliefs to date has focused predominantly on conspiracy beliefs in Western democracies. The current study sought to fill this gap by examining beliefs in conspiracy theories in a democratic society and a society in transition. British (N = 298) and Macedonian (N = 312) participants completed an online questi...
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This research examined the link between conspiracy beliefs and political decisions in the context of the 2016 European Union referendum in the United Kingdom. In a longitudinal study, we surveyed British participants at two-time points (one week before the referendum vs. immediately after the referendum). At both time points, participants (n = 334)...
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People typically extend limited moral standing to animals reared for food. Prominent perspectives in the literature on animal-human relations characterize this phenomenon as an outcome of moral disengagement: in other words, a strategy that protects people from moral self-condemnation. To provide a direct test of this hypothesis, we exposed people...
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This paper examines whether compliance with COVID-19 mitigation measures is motivated by wanting to save lives or save the economy (or both), and which implications this carries to fight the pandemic. National representative samples were collected from 24 countries (N = 25,435). The main predictors were (1) perceived risk to contract coronavirus, (...
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Background: Research suggests that emerging information about infection-acquired COVID-19 immunity should be interpreted with caution. The introduction of “immunity passports” that would enable people who have recovered from COVID-19 to travel freely and return to work may therefore have detrimental consequences if not managed carefully. Methods: I...
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Even though conspiracy theories are diverse, they are typically construed as a homogeneous phenomenon. Based on classic theorizations of conspiracy theories by Popper (1945; 2002) and Moscovici (1987), we propose to distinguish between belief in upward conspiracy theories (i.e., targeting relatively powerful groups) and downward conspiracy theories...
Preprint
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Even though conspiracy theories are diverse, they are typically construed as a homogeneous phenomenon. Based on classic theorizations of conspiracy theories by Popper (1945; 2002) and Moscovici (1987), we propose to distinguish between belief in upward conspiracy theories (i.e., targeting relatively powerful groups) and downward conspiracy theories...
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In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in the consequences of conspiracy theories and the COVID–19 pandemic raised this interest to another level. In this article, I will outline what we know about the consequences of conspiracy theories for individuals, groups, and society, arguing that they are certainly not harmless. In particula...
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Four studies (total n = 961) developed and validated the Adolescent Conspiracy Beliefs Questionnaire (ACBQ). Initial items were developed in collaboration with teachers. An Exploratory Factor Analysis (Study 1, n = 208, aged 11-14) and a student focus group (N = 3, aged 11) enabled us to establish the factor structure of a 9-item scale. This was re...
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Understanding why people believe conspiracy theories related to disease outbreaks and the consequences of such beliefs is critical for combating both the COVID-19 pandemic and its corresponding “infodemic.” In the introduction to this special issue on conspiracy theories about infectious diseases, the authors first provide a brief overview of the n...
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Research suggests that belief in conspiracy theories (CT) stems from basic psychological mechanisms and is linked to other belief systems (e.g. religious beliefs). While previous research has extensively examined individual and contextual variables associated with CT beliefs, it has not yet investigated the role of culture. In the current research,...
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Conspiracy theories started to appear on social media immediately after the first news about COVID-19. Is the virus a hoax? Is it a bioweapon designed in a Chinese laboratory? These conspiracy theories typically have an intergroup flavour, blaming one group for having some involvement in either manufacturing the virus or controlling public opinion...
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The Coronavirus is highly infectious and potentially deadly. In the absence of a cure or a vaccine, the infection prevention behaviors recommended by the World Health Organization constitute the only measure that is presently available to combat the pandemic. The unprecedented impact of this pandemic calls for swift identification of factors most i...
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In this work, we study how social contacts and feelings of solidarity shape experiences of loneliness during the COVID-19 lockdown in early 2020. We draw on cross-national data, collected across four time points between mid-March until early May 2020. We situate our work within the public debate on these issues and discuss to what extent the public...
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According to health behavior theories, perceived vulnerability to a health threat and perceived effectiveness of recommended health-protective behaviors determine motivation to follow these recommendations. Because the U.S. President Trump and U.S. conservative politicians downplayed the risk and seriousness of contracting COVID-19 and the effectiv...
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The PsyCorona collaboration is a research project to examine processes involved in the COVID-19 pandemic, such as behavior that curbs virus transmission, which may implicate social norms, cooperation, and self-regulation. The study also examines psychosocial consequences of physical distancing strategies and societal lockdown, such as frustration o...
Preprint
Full-text available
Research suggests that belief in conspiracy theories (CT) stems from basic psychological mechanisms and is linked to other belief systems (e.g. religious beliefs). While previous research has extensively examined individual and contextual variables associated with CT beliefs, it has not yet investigated the role of culture. In the current research,...
Article
Full-text available
Research suggests that animals’ capacity for agency, experience, and benevolence predict beliefs about their moral treatment. Four studies built on this work by examining how fine-grained information about animals’ traits and behaviours (e.g., can store food for later vs. can use tools) shifted moral beliefs about eating and harming animals. The in...
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Mapping the Moods of COVID-19: Global Study Uses Data Visualization to Track Psychological Responses, Identify Targets for Intervention
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Agreeing to disagree: Reports of the popularity of Covid-19 conspiracy theories are greatly exaggerated - Robbie M. Sutton, Karen M. Douglas
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This paper examines whether compliance with COVID-19 mitigation measures is motivated by wanting to save lives or save the economy (or both), and which implications this carries to fight the pandemic. National representative samples were collected from 24 countries (N=25,435). The main predictors were (i) perceived risk to contract coronavirus, (ii...
Preprint
Full-text available
Previous studies suggested that public trust in government is vital for implementations of social policies that rely on public's behavioural responses. This study examined associations of trust in government regarding COVID-19 control with recommended health behaviours and prosocial behaviours. Data from an international survey with representative...
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The current study investigated cultural and psychological factors associated with intentions to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Participants (n = 704) completed measures of individualism-collectivism, belief in conspiracy theories about COVID-19, feelings of powerlessness, and intentions to engage in behaviours that reduce the spread of COVID-19. Re...
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The COVID-19 pandemic represents a massive global health crisis. Because the crisis requires large-scale behaviour change and places significant psychological burdens on individuals, insights from the social and behavioural sciences can be used to help align human behaviour with the recommendations of epidemiologists and public health experts. Here...
Preprint
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The COVID-19 pandemic represents a massive, global health crisis. Because the crisis requires large-scale behavior change and poses significant psychological burdens on individuals, insights from the social and behavioural sciences are critical for optimizing pandemic response. Here we review relevant research from a diversity of research areas rel...
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We consider the significance of belief in conspiracy theories for political ideologies. Although there is no marked ideological asymmetry in conspiracy belief, research indicates that conspiracy theories may play a powerful role in ideological processes. In particular, they are associated with ideological extremism, distrust of rival ideological ca...
Book
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The second edition of this popular textbook encapsulates the excitement of the fascinating and fast-moving field of social psychology. A comprehensive and lively guide, it covers general principles, classic studies and cutting-edge research. Innovative features such as 'student projects' and 'exploring further' exercises place the student experienc...
Chapter
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The decline of traditional religion in the West has been matched by a rise in the visibility of conspiracy theories. Are conspiracy theories therefore a replacement for religious belief in an increasingly secular society? Conspiracy theories seem to fulfil some of the psychological needs addressed by religion, such as imposing a sense of order and...
Chapter
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In this chapter, we consider the factors that attract people toward conspiracy theories and also consider whether or not belief in conspiracy theories is a sign of gullibility. We first review the framework of Douglas, Sutton, and Cichocka (2017), which explains that belief in conspiracy theories is driven by epistemic, existential, and social moti...
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This research experimentally examined the effects of exposure to intergroup conspiracy theories on prejudice and discrimination. Study 1 (N = 166) demonstrated that exposure to conspiracy theories concerning immigrants to Britain from the European Union (vs. anti-conspiracy material or a control) exacerbated prejudice towards this group. Study 2 (N...
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Background Previous research has explored the impact of different types of praise and criticism on how children experience success and failure. However, less is known about how teachers choose to deliver feedback and specifically whether they deliver person (ability) or process (effort) feedback. Aim The aim of the current study was to use vignett...
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Scholarly efforts to understand conspiracy theories have grown significantly in recent years, and there is now a broad and interdisciplinary literature. In reviewing this body of work, we ask three specific questions. First, what factors are associated with conspiracy beliefs? Our review of the literature shows that conspiracy beliefs result from a...
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Belief in conspiracy theories is associated with negative outcomes such as political disengagement, prejudice, and environmental inaction. The current studies—one cross-sectional (N = 252) and one experimental (N = 120)—tested the hypothesis that belief in conspiracy theories would increase intentions to engage in everyday crime. Study 1 demonstrat...
Chapter
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Conspiracy theories tend to be taken more seriously by people who are mistrustful and prone to certain forms of magical thinking, have a worldview that generally fits with conspiratorial interpretations of events, feel alienated from society and its norms, and frequently come into contact with other topics outside of the mainstream such as alternat...
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*** In press---Advances in Political Psychology *** Scholarly efforts to understand conspiracy theories have grown significantly in recent years, and there is now a broad and interdisciplinary literature. In reviewing this body of work, we ask three specific questions. First, what factors are associated with conspiracy beliefs? Our review of the l...
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Although conspiracy theories have arguably always been an important feature of social life, they have only attracted the attention of social psychologists in recent years. The last decade, however, has seen an increase in social psychological research on this topic that has yielded many insights into the causes and consequences of conspiracy thinki...
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Perceptions of warmth play a central role in social cognition. Seven studies employ observational, correlational, and experimental methods to examine its role in concealing the functions of benevolent sexism. Together, Studies 1 (n = 297), 2 (n = 252) and 3 (n = 219) indicated that although women recall experiencing benevolent (vs. hostile) sexism...
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In this introduction to the EJSP Special Issue on conspiracy theories as a social psychological phenomenon, we describe how this emerging research domain has developed over the past decade and distill four basic principles that characterize belief in conspiracy theories. Specifically, conspiracy theories are consequential as they have a real impact...
Article
Ignoring and being ignored by others in favor of a smartphone is a common feature of everyday communication. However, little research has examined this phenomenon known as phubbing and even less research has determined how to measure it. This paper reports the results of six studies designed to develop and validate the Generic Scale of Phubbing (GS...
Data
This is a database of the current academic literature on conspiracy theories, and literature on other closely-related topics. Its production was supported by the Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (ESRC Award: ES/N009614/1). We intend to keep it up to date and re-post it every three months. If you have any updates that you would l...
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This research experimentally investigated the social consequences of "phubbing"-the act of snubbing someone in a social setting by concentrating on one's mobile phone. Participants viewed a three-minute animation in which they imagined themselves as part of a dyadic conversation. Their communication partner either phubbed them extensively, partiall...
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This research examined the link between attachment styles and belief in conspiracy theories. It was hypothesized, due to the tendency to exaggerate the intensity of threats, that higher anxiously attached individuals would be more likely to hold conspiracy beliefs, even when accounting for other variables such as right-wing authoritarianism, interp...
Chapter
An overwhelming percentage of climate scientists agree that human activity is causing the global climate to change in ways that will have deleterious consequences both for the environment and for humankind. While scientists have alerted both the public and policy makers to the dangers of continuing or increasing the current rate of carbon emission,...
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Computer-mediated intergroup contact (CMIC) is a valuable strategy to reduce negative sentiments towards members of different social groups. We examined whether characteristics of communication media that facilitate intergroup encounters shape its effect on out-group attitudes. Specifically, we propose that concealing individuating cues about out-g...