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Belief in US Government Conspiracies Against Blacks Among Black and White College Students: Powerlessness or System Blame?

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Black Americans are far more likely than White Americans to endorse theories about conspiracies by the U.S. government against Blacks. The present study explored the predictors of these conspiracy beliefs for 91 Black and 96 White college students. Two explanations for belief in these conspiracies were considered, one focusing on political powerless and externality of attributions and the other focusing on system blame or Blacks' disadvantaged status. Regression analyses supported the view that belief in these conspiracy theories is related to blaming problems of Black Americans on prejudice and discrimination. Race was a powerful predictor of belief in these conspiracies even when socioeconomic status was controlled. Furthermore, the race effect was partially mediated by the system blame measure but not by political powerlessness or greater externality of attributional style. System blame was a much stronger predictor of conspiracy beliefs for Black than for White students. Conspiracy beliefs were positively associated with the racial self-esteem of Black students and negatively for White students. Clinical implications and implications for intergroup relations are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2010 APA, all rights reserved) (journal abstract)
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PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN
Crocker et al. / CONSPIRACIES AGAINST BLACKS
Belief in U.S. Government Conspiracies Against
Blacks Among Black and White College Students:
Powerlessness or System Blame?
Jennifer Crocker
Riia Luhtanen
University of Michigan
Stephanie Broadnax
State University of New York at Buffalo
Bruce Evan Blaine
Hofstra University
Black Americans are far more likely than White Americans to
endorse theories about conspiracies by the U.S. government
against Blacks. The present study explored the predictors of these
conspiracy beliefs for 91 Black and 96 White college students.
Two explanations for belief in these conspiracies were considered,
one focusing on political powerless and externality of attribu-
tions and the other focusing on system blame for Blacks’ disad-
vantaged status. Regression analyses supported the view that
belief in these conspiracy theories is related to blaming problems
of Black Americans on prejudice and discrimination. Race was
a powerful predictor of belief in these conspiracies even when
socioeconomic status was controlled. Furthermore, the race effect
was partially mediated by the system blame measure but not by
political powerlessness or greater externality of attributional
style. System blame was a much stronger predictor of conspiracy
beliefs for Black than for White students. Conspiracy beliefs were
positively associated with the racial self-esteem of Black students
and negatively for White students. Clinical implications and
implications for intergroup relations are discussed.
More than 30 years after the civil rights movement led
to profound changes in the way Americans think about
racial issues, relations between Black and White Ameri-
cans continue to be tense. Reactions to the O. J. Simpson
not guilty verdict underscore the fact that a chasm
remains between Black and White Americans in the ways
they understand and think about racial issues and events.
One domain in which Blacks and Whites have widely dif-
fering construals of the world is beliefs about conspira-
cies by the U.S. government against Black Americans.
Although White Americans may find them to be unfamil-
iar and highly unlikely, theories about government
conspiracies against Blacks are widespread in African
American culture (for discussions, see De Parle, 1991;
Thomas & Quinn, 1991; Turner, 1993). A New York
Times/CBS News poll (DeParle, 1990b) assessed belief in
government conspiracies against Blacks among a random
sample of Black and White New Yorkers. Among those sur-
veyed, 77% of Blacks but only 34% of Whites thought it was
true or might be true that “The government deliberately
singles out and investigates black elected officials to dis-
credit them in a way it doesn’t do with white officials.” Sixty
percent of Blacks and 16% of Whites thought it was true or
might be true that “The government deliberately makes
sure that drugs are easily available in poor black neighbor-
hoods in order to harm black people.” Nineteen percent of
Blacks and only 5% of Whites thought it was true or might
possibly be true that “The virus that causes AIDS was delib-
erately created in a laboratory in order to infect black
people” (DeParle, 1990b, B7). Similarly, Goertzel (1994)
found that African Americans and Hispanics were more
941
Authors’ Note: We are grateful to Nancy Collins, James Jones, Steven
Spencer, Mark Zanna, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful
comments on an earlier draft of this article. The research reported in
this article was supported by National Science Foundation Grant Nos.
BNS 9010487 and SBR 9596226. Correspondence should be addressed
to Jennifer Crocker, Department of Psychology, University of Michi-
gan, 525 E. University Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1109; e-mail:
jcrocker@umich.edu.
PSPB, Vol. 25 No. 8, August 1999 941-953
© 1999 by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc.
likely to believe in various conspiracy theories than were
Whites. In his survey, 62% of the Black respondents believed
that it was definitely or probably true that the government
deliberately put drugs in Black communities, and 31%
believed that the government deliberately put AIDS into
Black communities.
A search of the social science literature suggests that,
apart from the fact that these conspiracy theories exist in
the Black community, little is known about the psycho-
logical meaning of these beliefs for Black and White
Americans. Are they the result of feelings of powerless-
ness and external control resulting from economic dis-
advantage? Or are they more specifically related to blam-
ing the system for problems in the Black community,
reflecting “readings or misreadings of real circum-
stances” (Turner, 1993, p. 219)?
At issue is whether race differences in endorsement of
these conspiracy theories are explained in terms of gen-
eral personality traits that develop as a response to the
experience of being disadvantaged or stigmatized (e.g.,
Allport, 1954/1979), or in terms of construals of the
world that represent an attempt to understand and cope
with the situation of Black Americans, and are more con-
text specific and less internalized and permanent than
personality traits. The experiences of the stigmatized in
general and African Americans in particular have been
described by a broad range of analysts and social scien-
tists from Allport (1954/1979), Sartre (1946/1965), and
Fanon’s (1952/1967) classic treatments to more recent
discussions such as those of Cose (1993) and S. Steele
(1990). Typically, these analyses conceptualize the expe-
rience of stigma as something that is internalized by stig-
matized individuals, permanently altering, even damag-
ing, their personalities. Thus, differences between those
who are disadvantaged or stigmatized and those who are
not are often interpreted as reflecting personality defi-
cits in the disadvantaged group. Alternatively, the expe-
rience of the stigmatized can be conceived of as a set of
predicaments specific to particular contexts or situa-
tions (e.g., Goffman, 1963; Jones et al., 1984; Katz, 1981;
Steele & Aronson, 1995; see Crocker, Major, & Steele,
1998, for a discussion). The coping responses and con-
struals of the world that stigmatized individuals use in
these situations to understand and manage the predica-
ments of stigma, it is argued, are the same coping strate-
gies that nonstigmatized individuals use when faced with
similar predicaments, rather than a pathological
response (Crocker et al., 1998; Steele & Aronson, 1995).
Low socioeconomic status (SES), powerlessness, and general-
ized externality of attributions. One interpretation of these
conspiracy theories is that they are related to a general
disposition to feel powerless and believe that negative
events in one’s own life are caused by external forces.
The notion that the government conspires against Black
Americans may reflect a high level of political powerless-
ness in Blacks, caused by their disadvantaged situation.
Furthermore, because U.S. government conspiracies
against Blacks represent a form of external attribution
for problems facing Black Americans, these conspiracy
theories may seem more plausible to individuals who are
external in their locus of control or who have an external
attributional style. Sociologists have suggested that indi-
viduals from low SES backgrounds are more external in
their attributions for events. Specifically, experiences
with poverty and victimization may lead to feelings of
powerlessness and the development of external attribu-
tional styles. This generalized externality may eventually
lead to mistrust of others and subclinical levels of para-
noid thinking (Mirowsky & Ross, 1983).
According to this perspective, belief in U.S. govern-
ment conspiracies against Blacks reflect powerlessness
and externality of attributional style, which result from
low socioeconomic status and disadvantage rather than
race per se. Accordingly, one would expect that control-
ling for SES differences, feelings of powerlessness, and
externality of attributional style would eliminate the
racial gap in endorsement of these conspiracy theories.
Research on race differences in attributions for
events provides, at best, mixed support for this hypothe-
sis. A study by Lefcourt and Ludwig (1965) found that
Blacks are higher than Whites in external locus of con-
trol. Subsequent research has only ambiguously sup-
ported this hypothesis, however. For example, in a
recent review of the literature, Graham (1994) reports
that of 16 published studies examining race differences
in locus of control among adolescents and adults, only 7
(44%) reported Whites to be more internal than Blacks,
4 found no differences, and the remaining 5 showed
mixed results. Studies of the attributions that Blacks and
Whites make for their own success and failure in achieve-
ment contexts do not typically suggest any racial differ-
ences in causal attributions (Graham, 1994). This
research suggests that Blacks are not more external than
Whites in their attributions for their own outcomes but
may be more external for events that involve others.
System blame. An alternative interpretation of these
conspiracy theories is that they are related not to a gen-
eral tendency to feel powerless and attribute events in
one’s own life to external causes but to a more specific
tendency to make external attributions for the problems
facing Black Americans as a group. That Black Ameri-
cans disproportionately experience a variety of negative
outcomes, including unemployment, imprisonment, a
variety of negative health outcomes, and criminal vic-
timization, has been widely documented and discussed
in the popular press as well as in the social science
942 PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN
literature. Explanations for these problems vary, from
blaming Blacks themselves to blaming structural barri-
ers such as prejudice, racism, and discrimination (see
Neighbors, Jackson, Broman, & Thompson, in press, for
a review). Not surprisingly, Black Americans are more
likely than are White Americans to believe that problems
facing the Black community are the result of prejudice
and discrimination against Blacks, rather than caused by
Blacks themselves (Kluegel & Smith, 1986). Belief in
U.S. government conspiracies against Blacks may be a
more extreme form of system blame for problems facing
the Black community.
According to a system blame interpretation, beliefs in
U.S. government conspiracies against Blacks represent a
specific type of external attribution for problems facing
Blacks as a group. Individuals who endorse system blame
explanations for problems in the Black community may
be more likely to endorse these conspiracy theories with-
out being more external in their attributions for events
in their own lives. If belief in U.S. government conspira-
cies against Black Americans represent one form of sys-
tem blame, then both Black and White Americans who
endorse system blame may be more likely to endorse
these conspiracy theories. Thus, the huge racial gap in
endorsement of these conspiracy theories may simply
reflect a broader racial chasm in understandings of, and
attributions of blame for, the problems faced by Black
Americans. Controlling for race differences in the
extent to which problems faced by the Black community
are perceived to be the result of prejudice and discrimi-
nation should eliminate all or part of the race difference
in endorsement of these theories.
Alternatively, it is possible that these conspiracy theo-
ries are more familiar to Black Americans than to Whites
and have a different meaning for these two groups. For
Black Americans, these conspiracy theories may repre-
sent an attempt to cope with a predicament posed by
stigma—the fact that Black Americans are faring poorly,
as a group, relative to White Americans. The predica-
ment posed by this fact is its potential implications for
the character of Black Americans. Attributing problems
facing Black Americans to something about Blacks them-
selves threatens the personal and/or collective self-esteem
of Blacks. Attributing those problems to prejudice
and discrimination deflects these potentially self-
threatening implications. Of course, the strategy of cop-
ing with self-threats by making external attributions is a
widely demonstrated response and is not unique to Afri-
can Americans or the stigmatized more generally. How-
ever, if these conspiracy theories represent a strategy to
cope with a specific self-threat posed by their stigma,
then these conspiracy theories may be more strongly
linked to system blame among Blacks than among
Whites.
The present study had several goals. First, we wanted
to determine whether the race differences in belief in
U.S. government conspiracies against Blacks observed in
public opinion polling would obtain in a sample of rela-
tively advantaged Black and White college students. Sec-
ond, if we observed race differences, we wanted to exam-
ine two explanations for these differences. One
explanation, suggested by the work of Mirowski and Ross
(1983), maintains that belief in conspiracies results from
poverty, powerlessness, and a general external attribu-
tional style. The second explanation suggests that these
conspiracy theories are more narrowly related to system
blame for problems facing Black Americans. The third
goal was to examine the relationship between belief in
U.S. government conspiracies against Blacks and per-
sonal and racial self-esteem. If, as we expect, these con-
spiracy theories represent an extension of system blame
and not more generalized feelings of powerlessness and
external control, they should be positively associated
with personal and racial self-esteem for Black but not for
White college students.
METHOD
Participants
The study participants consisted of 238 students
enrolled in a large, predominantly White, Northeastern
university. They participated as part of study of race and
psychological well-being (see Crocker, Luhtanen,
Blaine, & Broadnax, 1994, for other results that are
based on this sample). Most participants were recruited
from the departmental subject pool and received partial
credit toward their introductory psychology course for
their participation. Because Black students represented
only about 7% of undergraduate students on this cam-
pus, Blacks students in the psychology department sub-
ject pool were identified in mass testing at the beginning
of the semester and recruited by telephone. White stu-
dents were recruited by sign-up sheets. A small number
of students participated in response to advertisements
posted around the university campus offering $5 for par-
ticipation in multiethnic research. Ninety-six (40.3%)
participants identified themselves as White/Caucasian,
and 91 (38.2%) identified themselves as Black/African
American. Fifty-one (21.5%) participants classified
themselves in other racial categories (35 Asian, 9 His-
panic, 3 Native American, and 4 Other) but because
their numbers were so few, their data are not included in
the results reported below.
The sample of White students was 54.2% male.
Ninety-three (97%) reported that they were U.S. citi-
zens, and 90 (94%) reported that English was their
native language. The median annual family income
reported by these students was $50,000 to $59,000, and
Crocker et al. / CONSPIRACIES AGAINST BLACKS 943
the median highest level of parental education was 2
years of college. The sample of Black students was 52.7%
male. Eighty (89%) reported that they were U.S. citizens,
and 87 (97%) reported that English was their native lan-
guage. The median annual family income reported by
these students was $30,000 to $39,000, and the median
highest level of parental education was 2 years of college.
Measures
Participants completed booklets, which began with a
background questionnaire, assessing the demographic
information described above. The remainder of the
booklet included several scales assessing beliefs in con-
spiracies, attributions, powerlessness, and other vari-
ables. The order of the scales was counterbalanced.
Belief in government conspiracies against Blacks. A 13-item
scale was developed for this study to assess the extent to
which participants believe in U.S. government conspira-
cies against Blacks. Three of the items, quoted in the
introduction, were taken directly from the New York
Times/CBS News survey (1990). The remaining 10 items
followed the same format and attributed other circum-
stances facing Blacks in the United States to government
conspiracies1(see Appendix A). To disguise the purpose
of the scale and to avoid response-set biases, 13 filler
items also were included (e.g., Some people say the cur-
rent economic recession is caused by the high federal
budget deficit). Participants indicated how true they
thought each statement was on a scale ranging from 1
(almost certainly not true)to7(definitely true). To maintain
the scale labels used by the New York Times/CBS News sur-
vey (1990), and also to increase the variance among
White respondents, the midpoint of the scale was
labeled might possibly be true. An index of belief in con-
spiracies was created by averaging across the 13 items in
the scale. The belief in conspiracies index had high
internal consistency in this study (Cronbach’s alpha =
.96; .92 for Blacks and .85 for Whites).
Powerlessness. Powerlessness was assessed with Neal
and Rettig’s (1963) Powerlessness Scale (also see Neal &
Groat, 1974). It consists of 8 items, measuring expectan-
cies for control over the outcomes of political and eco-
nomic events, to which participants respond on a scale
from 1 (strongly agree)to4(strongly disagree). Example
items include “The world is run by the few people in
power, and there is not much the little guy can do about
it” (reverse-scored) and “The average citizen can have an
influence on government decisions.” Higher scores indi-
cate a greater sense of powerlessness. The powerlessness
scale has high internal consistency, high test-retest reli-
ability, and correlates negatively with measures of SES, as
expected (see Seeman, 1991). The coefficient alpha for
our sample was .84 (.80 for Blacks, .87 for Whites).
Externality of attributions for negative events. Externality
of attributional style was assessed with the Attributional
Styles Questionnaire (ASQ) (Peterson et al., 1982),
which measures the tendency to make internal, stable,
and global attributions for hypothetical events. Respon-
dents provide a cause for each of six positive and six
negative hypothetical outcomes, rating each cause in
terms of whether it is internal (vs. external), stable (vs.
unstable), and global (vs. specific). Peterson et al. report
reliabilities ranging from .44 to .69, with a mean of .54
(also see Sweeney, Anderson, & Bailey, 1986). Responses
on the internal versus external items are made on a scale
from 1 (totally due to other people or circumstances)to7
(totally due to me). We created an index of external attri-
butions for negative events by reverse-scoring these
items and averaging the ratings for the six negative
events. The coefficient alpha for this measure was .25
(.24 for Blacks, .26 for Whites). In light of its low internal
consistency, results involving this measure should be
interpreted cautiously.
System blame. The system blame measure assessed the
extent to which participants attributed various problems
facing the Black community to prejudice and was cre-
ated for this study. Eight facts were presented, and for
each fact, four possible causes were presented, including
one prejudice/discrimination cause (see Appendix B).
Participants rated each possible cause on a scale from 1
(strongly disagree)to7(strongly agree). We created a com-
posite by averaging the prejudice/discrimination rat-
ings across the eight items. Cronbach’s alpha was .85 (.82
for Blacks, .79 for Whites) on this measure.
Personal self-esteem. The 10-item version of the Rosen-
berg Self-Esteem Inventory (Rosenberg, 1965) was
included. This measure assesses global, personal feel-
ings of self-worth. It includes items such as “I feel I am a
person of worth, at least on an equal basis with others”
(reverse-scored) and “At times, I think I am no good at
all,” with a response scale ranging from 1 (strongly agree)
to4(strongly disagree). Higher scores indicate higher self-
esteem. The scale has high internal consistency and has
been well validated in numerous studies (Blascovich &
Tomaka, 1991). The coefficient alpha in the present
study was .86 (.86 for Blacks, .87 for Whites).
Racial self-esteem. Participants also completed the Col-
lective Self-Esteem Scale (CSE), developed by Luhtanen
and Crocker (1992; Crocker & Luhtanen, 1990). The
measure assesses four dimensions of collective self-
esteem (private, public, importance, and membership),
which are only modestly correlated. For the purposes of
the present study, we created a version of the CSE that is
specific to racial identity (see Crocker et al., 1994). The
aspect of CSE that is most relevant to the present study is
the private subscale, which assesses how participants
944 PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN
privately feel about their racial group, with items such as
“I feel my racial group is worthwhile.” Responses were
made on a scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree)to
7(strongly agree). The coefficient alpha for this measure is
.72.
Procedure
Data were collected over an 18-month interval from
January 1991 to May 1992 (three academic semesters). A
total of four research assistants ran the experimental ses-
sions (one experimenter per session). Two of the
research assistants were White (one male and one
female) and two were Black (one male and one female).
All research assistants ran sessions that included both
Black and White participants of both genders. All partici-
pants were run in groups of 4 to 12 individuals in 1-hour
sessions. Participants were told that the study was a sur-
vey of students’ self- and social perceptions and that they
were to complete a booklet of questionnaires. It was
emphasized that their responses were completely anony-
mous, that there were no right or wrong answers to any
of the questions, and that they should try to answer all
the questions as honestly as possible and without talking
to one another during the session. All participants
signed a consent form that promised confidentiality,
informed them of their rights to not answer any ques-
tions they found objectionable, and to withdraw from
the study at any time without penalty. Participants were
debriefed regarding the purpose of the research at the
conclusion of the study.
RESULTS
Participants with missing data on a measure were
dropped from analyses involving that measure. Conse-
quently, the number of participants included in the
analyses reported below varies somewhat. This resulted
in a maximum of 20% of participants being dropped
from analyses involving all predictors of belief in con-
spiracies. No effects of experimenter’s race or sex were
found in preliminary analyses of the data. Therefore, the
analyses reported below do not include race or sex of
experimenter as a factor.
The analyses reported below were intended to
address four major questions: (a) Do race differences in
belief in U.S. government conspiracies against Blacks
exist in this college student sample? (b) If they do, what
explains them? In particular, are race differences in
endorsement of these conspiracy theories related to low
SES, powerlessness, and general externality of attribu-
tional style or are they more specifically related to system
blame for problems facing the African American com-
munity? (c) Are these beliefs related to different predic-
tors for Black and White college students? and (d) What
are the consequences of these beliefs for personal and
collective self-esteem? To address these questions, we
first report comparisons between Blacks and Whites on
belief in conspiracies and the other variables of interest.
We then report the results of mediation analyses, using
multiple regression to evaluate the ability of theoreti-
cally relevant variables (SES, powerlessness, externality
for negative events, and system blame) to explain any
race differences in endorsement of these beliefs. It
should be stressed that the mediation analyses do not
assume a direct causal link between race and other vari-
ables but rather are intended to shed light on why the
hypothesized race differences are observed (see Baron
& Kenny, 1986). Third, we report the results of analyses
testing interactions between race and other variables to
determine whether the correlates of conspiracy theories
are different among Black and White college students.
Fourth, we examine the association between endorse-
ment of these conspiracy theories for personal and col-
lective self-esteem.
Descriptive Statistics and Group Differences
Belief in U.S. government conspiracies against Blacks. The
index of belief in conspiracies had a theoretical range
from 1 to 7. Actual scores ranged from 1.23 to 6.77 for
Black students and 1 to 4 for White students. Thus,
although the responses for Whites were skewed toward
disbelief, there was still considerable variability on this
measure. A 2 (race) ×2 (sex) ANOVA on the belief in
government conspiracies index revealed a main effect of
race, F(1, 175) = 297.33, p< .0001. As the means in Table 1
show, Black students scored higher on the belief in con-
spiracies index than did White students. Neither the
main effect of sex nor the Race ×Sex interaction reached
statistical significance on this index.
To determine whether race differences in belief in
conspiracies were limited to a few items or were mani-
fested on all of the items, we conducted a Multivariate
Analysis of Variance (MANOVA) with race and sex of
participant as between-participant variables on the 13
items assessing belief in government conspiracies
against Blacks. The MANOVA revealed a main effect of
race, F(13, 163) = 32.87, p< .0001. Univariate Ftests
revealed a highly significant main effect of race of par-
ticipant on each conspiracy item. As the means in Table 1
show, Black students were significantly more likely to
endorse each conspiracy theory than were Whites. In
addition, the MANOVA revealed a multivariate Race ×
Sex interaction, F(13, 163) = 2.60, p< .003. Univariate F
tests revealed a significant Race ×Sex interaction on
three of the items, concerning drop-out rates, F(1, 175) =
5.34, p< .03; homelessness, F(1, 175) = 4.18, p< .05; and
separating Black children from their families, F(1, 175) =
6.90, p< .01. In each case, post hoc comparisons revealed
that Black males were more likely to endorse the item
Crocker et al. / CONSPIRACIES AGAINST BLACKS 945
than were Black females, but White males and females
did not differ in their endorsements. In no case was the
direction of the race effect on belief in conspiracies
reversed.
To compare the results of the present study to the data
from the sample in the New York Times/CBS News survey
(DeParle, 1990a), we selected the three items included
in both studies. For each item, we calculated the percent-
ages of respondents who indicated agreement by answer-
ing might possibly be true to definitely true. In both studies,
Blacks were far more likely to endorse the conspiracies
than were Whites, and the level of agreement tended to
be higher in our college student sample than in the pub-
lic opinion poll. When asked whether the government
deliberately singles out and investigates Black elected
officials, 86.4% of the Black students in our study, com-
pared to 77% of Blacks in the New York Times/CBS News
survey (DeParle, 1990a), agreed. Among Whites
responding to the same item, 53.7% of students in our
study, and 34% of those in the public opinion poll,
thought it might be true. When asked whether the gov-
ernment deliberately makes drugs available in poor
Black neighborhoods, 84.1% of the Black students, com-
pared to 60% of the Black respondents in the poll,
agreed. Among Whites, 4.2% of the students in our
study, compared to 16% of those in the poll, agreed.
Finally, when asked whether the AIDS virus was deliber-
ately created to infect Black people, 60.2% of Black stu-
dents in our study, compared to 19% of Blacks in the
poll, agreed. Among Whites, 9.5% of the students in our
study and 5% of those in the poll thought it might possi-
bly or definitely was true. Thus, belief in these conspira-
cies is at least as widespread, and perhaps more so,
among relatively advantaged college students as it is in
the general population. Furthermore, the racial
chasm in these beliefs in the general population also
can be found on college campuses.
Externality, powerlessness, system blame, personal and racial
self-esteem, and demographics. Means and standard devia-
tions for the additional measures included in the study,
separately for each racial group, are included in Table 2.
There was no evidence that Blacks were lower in political
powerlessness or externality of attributional style than
Whites. The reliability for the powerlessness measure
was satisfactory but the externality measure had low reli-
ability; therefore, results involving this measure should
be interpreted cautiously. Black students were higher in
system blame; that is, they were more likely to attribute
problems in the Black community to prejudice and dis-
crimination. They also were higher in racial, but not per-
sonal, self-esteem than Whites. Black students also were
significantly lower in family income but not in parents’
level of education. No significant gender or Gender ×
Race effects were observed on these measures.
Zero-order correlations among the variables. Table 3 shows
the zero-order correlations among the measures
included in this study for all participants and for Black
and White participants separately.
To examine the predictors of belief in conspiracies,
hierarchical multiple regression analyses were con-
ducted. On the first step of the equation, SES variables
(family income and parents’ education level) and gen-
der of participant were entered. This resulted in a signifi-
cant regression equation (R2= .07, F= 3.79, p< .02). Fam-
ily income was a significant predictor of belief in
conspiracies (β= –.24, p< .002). Neither parent’s educa-
tion (β= .14) nor sex of participant (β= –.03) was signifi-
cantly related to belief in conspiracies.
When race was entered on Step 2 of the equation, it
accounted for a highly significant increment in variance
explained (R2change = .55, F= 57.85, p< .0001, β= .78).
946 PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN
TABLE 1: Means and Standard Deviations on Each of the 13 Conspir-
acy Items and the Belief in Conspiracies Index for Black
and White Students
Whites Blacks
Item MSD MSD F p
1. Black officials 3.25 1.47 5.19 1.46 79.05 < .0001
2. Drugs available 1.41 .98 4.98 1.72 322.68 < .0001
3. AIDS created 1.51 1.48 3.94 2.14 91.29 < .0001
4. Unemployment 1.94 1.26 4.67 1.44 182.91 < .0001
5. Birth control 1.73 1.15 3.64 1.83 76.29 < .0001
6. School dropouts 1.64 1.06 4.14 1.74 133.53 < .0001
7. Homelessness 1.51 1.00 4.11 1.63 210.93 < .0001
8. Single-parent
families 1.35 .71 3.41 1.84 100.65 < .0001
9. Immigration 1.90 1.16 4.18 1.96 93.19 < .0001
10. AIDS in babies 1.15 .58 2.60 1.36 94.04 < .0001
11. Death penalty 1.60 1.12 4.77 1.65 228.63 < .0001
12. Separate children 1.35 .74 3.54 1.64 143.36 <.0001
13. Men in prison 1.78 1.15 4.92 1.77 194.69 < .0001
Conspiracy index 1.67 .62 4.16 1.23 300.77 < .0001
TABLE 2: Means and Standard Deviations on the Additional Mea-
sures Included in This Study
Whites Blacks
Item MSD MSD F p
Externality of 3.80 .86 4.00 .84 2.48 ns
attributions
Powerlessness 2.12 .54 2.04 .51 2.22 ns
System blame 3.58 1.04 4.91 1.14 66.47 < .0001
Personal self-esteem 3.24 .47 3.37 .48 3.34 ns
Racial self-esteem 5.86 .81 6.45 .78 24.07 < .0001
Income 6.25 2.53 4.66 2.55 17.52 < .0001
Parent’s education 8.26 3.00 8.38 3.06 .06 ns
NOTE: Family’s annual income was measured on a scale from 1 (Less
than $10,000)to11($100,000 or more). Parent’s highest level of educa-
tion was measured on a scale from 1 (none)to13(doctoral degree), where
8 indicates 1 year of college.
Furthermore, once race was entered into the regression
equation, none of the other demographic or SES vari-
ables was significantly related to belief in conspiracies
(for family income, β= –.05; gender of participant, β=
–.04; parent’s education, β= .06, all Fs < 1.0, ns). Thus,
family income had no unique effect on belief in con-
spiracies once race of participants was controlled. This
suggests that belief in government conspiracies against
Blacks is not due to low SES but to some other factor asso-
ciated with race of participants.
If powerlessness and externality for negative events
explain the effect of race on belief in government con-
spiracies against Blacks, then entering them into the
regression equation on the next step should decrease
the explanatory power of the race variable (Judd &
Kenny, 1981a, 1981b). Inspection of the zero-order cor-
relations, however, suggests that powerlessness and
externality are not significantly related to belief in con-
spiracies, and entering these variables into the regres-
sion equation confirmed this. Entering powerlessness
and externality of attributional styles did not result in a
significant increment in variance explained (R2change =
.003, ns). Neither powerlessness nor externality was
related to belief in conspiracies (βs = .05 and –.02, ns).2
If belief in conspiracies against Blacks is related to sys-
tem blame in which problems in the Black community
are attributed to the specific external factors of preju-
dice and discrimination, then entering system blame on
the next step of the equation should account for (and
thus decrease) the effect of race on belief in conspira-
cies. Entering the system blame measure on Step 4 of the
regression analysis significantly increased the variance
explained (R2change = .13, p< .0001). In the final equa-
tion, the effects of family income (β= –.04), parent’s
education (β= .06), sex of participant (β= –.05), exter-
nality (β= .01), and powerlessness (β= .02) were all
nonsignificant. Only race (β= .55, p< .0001) and system
blame (β= .42, p< .0001) were significant predictors of
belief in conspiracies. The beta for race was reduced
from .78 on Step 2 of the equation to .55 when system
blame was entered on Step 4, suggesting that the effect
of race on belief in conspiracies is partially explained by
race differences in system blame. The final regression
equation was highly significant, R2= .75, F(7, 140) =
59.55, p< .0001.
Interaction effects. The results of the regression analyses
described above suggest that the vast difference between
Blacks and Whites in their willingness to believe that U.S.
government conspiracies against Blacks are at least possi-
ble is explained, at least in part, by more general beliefs
about the causes of problems confronting the Black
community. These analyses assume that belief in govern-
ment conspiracies against Blacks is related to the predic-
tor variables in similar ways for Black and White college
students. However, it is also possible that predictors of
U.S. government conspiracies against Blacks are differ-
ent for Black and White college students. To examine
the possibility that the correlates of belief in U.S. govern-
ment conspiracies are different for Black and White stu-
dents, we entered the interaction of race with each of the
other predictor variables into the regression equation.
To avoid problems of multicollinearity, each interaction
term was entered as a single variable on the last step of
the equation, with all main effects entered first. This
process was repeated for each interaction between race
and the other variables.
Neither the Race ×Powerlessness nor the Race ×
Externality interaction significantly increased the vari-
Crocker et al. / CONSPIRACIES AGAINST BLACKS 947
TABLE 3: Zero-Order Correlations Among the Variables (all participants and Blacks vs. Whites)
12345678
1. Belief in conspiracies
2. Externality .08
.10/–.23*
3. Powerlessness –.06 –.08
–.01/.14 –.13/–.01
4. System blame .69*** –.02 –.02
.70***/.29** .12/–.34** –.01/.07
5. Personal self-esteem –.15* .18* –.41*** –.05
.27*/–.28** .08/.25* –.37***/–.42*** .16/–.39***
6. Racial self-esteem .31*** .09 –.16* .23** .34***
.25*/–.22* .03/.08 –.18/–.09 .13/.03 .43***/.22*
7. Income –.23** –.22** .05 –.09 –.17* –.12
–.07/.10 –.23*/–.15 .10/–.05 .01/.14 –.16/–.12 –.04/–.02
8. Parent’s education .02 –.10 .03 –.01 –.04 –.05 .38***
.03/–.03 –.05/–.16 .04/.03 .04/–.09 .03/–.12 .08/–.19 .32**/.48***
9. Racea.79*** .12 –.11 .53*** .13 .34*** –.30** .02
a. Coded as 1 = Whites, 2 = Blacks.
*p< .05. **p< .01. ***p< .001.
ance explained (for both interaction terms, R2change <
.001, p> .70), neither was either interaction term signifi-
cant (both ps > .80). However, adding the interaction of
race with the system blame measure did significantly
increase the variance explained (R2change = .049,
p< .0001). With this interaction term included, the
regression equation had an R2of .80, F(8, 139) = 68.40,
p< .0001.
In sum, when all predictor variables are considered
together, only the system blame variable predicts belief
in U.S. government conspiracies against Blacks, but
it does so differently for Black and White students.
Because no other control or theoretically relevant vari-
ables approached significance in the previous analyses,
the nature of this interaction is captured by the zero-
order correlation coefficients, which indicate that sys-
tem blame is a more powerful predictor of belief in con-
spiracies for Black students (r= .70) than for White stu-
dents (r= .29).
Factor analyses. The finding that belief in U.S. govern-
ment conspiracies is associated with system blame but no
other variables in our analyses raises the question of
whether these are in fact two distinct constructs in the
minds of our participants. Among Blacks, the correla-
tion of .703 is nearly indistinguishable from the product
of the reliabilities of the two scales, .754. Among Whites,
the association is relatively weak, suggesting that these
two measures do not mean the same thing for Whites.
To address this issue, we conducted a factor analysis
on all items from the belief in conspiracies measure and
the system blame measure. We conducted the analyses
using principal components extraction, forcing a two-
factor solution with VARIMAX rotation, on all partici-
pants together and then on Blacks and Whites sepa-
rately. In each analysis, the two factors that emerged cor-
responded closely with our conceptual variables of belief
in conspiracies and system blame. For all participants, all
belief in conspiracies items loaded between .65 and .86
on the first factor and lower than .40 on the second fac-
tor. Only one system blame item loaded on the first fac-
tor, with a factor loading of .59. All remaining system
blame items loaded on the second factor, with factor
loadings ranging from .54 to .75 and loaded on the first
factor with a factor loading of .53 or lower. Thus, when
data from all participants are entered together, the
resulting factors closely correspond to our belief in con-
spiracies and system blame measures.
The results are even more clear when considering the
data for Whites only. The same analysis resulted in a first
factor consisting of all belief in conspiracies items (fac-
tor loadings ranging from .49 to .84), and these items did
not load highly on the second factor (factor loadings
ranging from –.22 to .37). The second factor consisted of
all system blame items (factor loadings ranging from .51
to .70), and these items did not load highly on the first
factor (factor loadings ranging from –.10 to .34). For
Blacks, the first factor consisted of 11 of the 13 belief in
conspiracies items (factor loadings ranging from .55 to
.76), with none of these items loading highly on the sec-
ond factor (factor loadings ranging from –.04 to .43).
The second factor consisted of all system blame items in
addition to the two remaining belief in conspiracies
items (Items 1 and 13). Factor loadings ranged from .38
to .73. Factor loadings of these items on the first factor
ranged from .03 to .45. Thus, despite the very high corre-
lation between the two measures among Black partici-
pants, the factor analysis suggested that belief in con-
spiracies and system blame are two distinct constructs,
albeit not as clearly distinct as they are among White
participants.3
Predicting personal and collective self-esteem. We proposed
that belief in U.S. government conspiracies against
Blacks might protect the personal or collective self-
esteem of Blacks but not Whites. To address this issue, we
conducted two sets of regression analyses, one predict-
ing personal self-esteem and one predicting racial self-
esteem. Gender, race, parents’ income, and parents’
education were included as control variables because
these demographic variables are sometimes related to
self-esteem (e.g., Wylie, 1979). Then, belief in conspira-
cies was entered, followed on the next step by the inter-
action of race with belief in conspiracies. Both analyses
resulted in significant interactions of race with belief in
conspiracies (for personal self-esteem, p< .001; for racial
collective self-esteem, p< .003), indicating that the asso-
ciation between belief in conspiracies and self-esteem
depends on participants’ race. No main effects of the
control variables reached statistical significance in either
analysis.
To understand the nature of these interactions, and
to evaluate the role of system blame in these effects, we
conducted regression analyses separately for Black and
White participants. In each analysis, all control variables
(gender, parents’ income, and parents’ education) and
the main effects of belief in conspiracies and system
blame were entered simultaneously. First, consider per-
sonal self-esteem. For White participants, personal self-
esteem was significantly predicted by system blame (β=
–.35, p< .002) and marginally significantly predicted by
belief in conspiracies (β= – .20, p< .07). Both betas were
negative, indicating that increased belief in conspiracies
against Blacks and system blame for problems confront-
ing Blacks were associated with lower personal self-
esteem among Whites. The overall regression equation
was significant, F(5, 79) = 4.57, p< .002. For Black partici-
pants, none of the predictors of personal self-esteem
approached statistical significance, with all ps > .16, and
948 PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN
the overall regression equation was not significant,
F(5,68) = 1.8, p> .12.
Next, consider racial self-esteem. For White partici-
pants, both parents’ education (β= –.29, p< .03) and
belief in conspiracies (β= –.25, p< .03) were significant
predictors of racial self-esteem, but system blame was not
(β= .06, p> .60). Thus, belief in conspiracies against
Blacks was associated with lower racial self-esteem
among Whites. For Black participants, both gender of
participants (β= .23, p< .05; females higher in racial self-
esteem) and belief in conspiracies (β= .33, p< .052) were
associated with racial self-esteem, but system blame was
not (β= –.11, p> .50). The effect of belief in conspiracies,
although only marginally significant, was positive and in
the opposite direction of that obtained for White partici-
pants. Thus, controlling for system blame, belief in con-
spiracies was associated with lower personal and racial
self-esteem among White students and higher racial self-
esteem among Black students.
DISCUSSION
The tendency for Black Americans to believe it is true,
or might be true, that the U.S. government conspires to
harm Black Americans could be interpreted either as a
reflection of personality styles, such as powerlessness and
externality, characteristic of those who have experienced
disadvantage and discrimination or as a construal that
reflects a particular view of the situation facing one’s
racial group and perhaps an attempt to cope with the
threat to the self that that situation poses. The results of
the present study, we believe, are consistent with the lat-
ter viewpoint.
Consistent with the New York Times/CBS News
(DeParle, 1990a) data, endorsement of these conspiracy
theories was much stronger among Black than White col-
lege students (see also Goertzel, 1994; Turner, 1993).
However, it should be noted that among the Black stu-
dents in our sample, the mean level of endorsement
tended to be around the midpoint of the scale, indicat-
ing that typically students thought these conspiracy theo-
ries “might possibly be true.” Thus, it does not appear
that most Black college students unequivocally accept
the validity of these theories; rather, they do not discount
the possibility that they could be true. White students
tended to be much more skeptical about these conspir-
acy theories. The mean level of endorsement among
Whites was 1.67 (compare to 4.16 among Blacks), where
1 anchored the endpoint of a 7-point scale. Thus, White
students are more certain than Blacks that these con-
spiracies are not true.
Neither SES, powerlessness, nor externality of attribu-
tions for negative events could account for the large dif-
ferences between Black and White college students in
belief in U.S. government conspiracies against Blacks. It
is possible that the inability of these variables to account
for variance in belief in conspiracies is due to inadequate
measurement of these constructs. However, the measure
of political powerlessness showed good internal consis-
tency and is a well-established measure of this construct.
Thus, it does not appear that political powerlessness
accounts for belief in U.S. government conspiracies
against Blacks. Our measure of external attributions
for negative outcomes had poor reliability, and conse-
quently, this study is a less compelling test of the notion
that these conspiracy theories reflect general externality
for negative events. However, none of the externality
items individually predicted belief in conspiracies, so we
were able to find no evidence in support of the notion
that these conspiracy beliefs reflect general externality
of attributional style for negative events. It is not clear
why this measure had such poor reliability in our study,
but we suggest that future research involving this con-
struct use alternative measures with better psychometric
properties. Thus, endorsement of these conspiracy theo-
ries among Black students does not appear to be a reflec-
tion of general personality characteristics, such as power-
lessness and external attributional style, that result from
experiences with disadvantage and discrimination and
affects interpretation of self-relevant outcomes.
Rather, belief in these conspiracies seems to reflect
and extend a construal of a particular set of problems
facing Black Americans. This construal places blame for
these problems on prejudice and discrimination and
extends to the possibility that the U.S. government, or its
agents, engages in acts deliberately intended to harm
Black Americans. It should be noted that a number of
historical events, such as the Tuskegee syphilis study, pro-
vide a compelling reason for Black Americans to suspect
that the U.S. government is capable of conspiring to
harm Black Americans (De Parle, 1991; Turner, 1993).
System blame was a much stronger predictor of belief
in conspiracies among Black students than among White
students. Regression analyses conducted separately on
these two groups accounted for 50% of the variance
among Black students but only 9% of the variance
among White students. This difference in variance
explained may reflect that these conspiracy theories are
familiar to Black students, whether they agree with them
or not, but are unfamiliar and hence rejected by most
White students. We suspect that these beliefs both have
more credence and are more strongly related to system
blame among Blacks than Whites because they represent
a response to a predicament faced by Black Ameri-
cans—understanding the wide disparities in the out-
comes experienced by Black and White Americans.
Rather than attribute them to some deficit in Blacks
themselves, many Black Americans attribute these dis-
parities to a problem located in White Ameri-
Crocker et al. / CONSPIRACIES AGAINST BLACKS 949
cans—prejudice and discrimination. Given the size of
the racial gap for many outcomes, it may seem plausible
to many Blacks that these outcomes reflect not only
individual racial attitudes but also active conspiracies
deliberately intended to produce these harmful
consequences.
We hypothesized that belief in U.S. government con-
spiracies against Blacks might have self-protective conse-
quences for Blacks but not for Whites. Analyses indi-
cated that endorsement of these conspiracy theories was
not related to personal self-esteem among Blacks but was
related to lower personal self-esteem among Whites,
even controlling for the negative effects of system blame.
The different effects of endorsing these conspiracy theo-
ries for Blacks and Whites were even more striking when
we considered racial self-esteem. Among Whites,
endorsement of conspiracy theories was associated with
low racial self-esteem, but among Blacks, it was associ-
ated with high racial self-esteem. These results are con-
sistent with various causal relations among these vari-
ables. It is possible that self-esteem has the causal role in
this association, such that only Whites who are low in per-
sonal or racial self-esteem are willing to entertain the
possibility that their government conspires to harm
Black Americans, and high racial self-esteem causes
these conspiracy theories to be more plausible to Black
Americans. It is also possible that belief in U.S. govern-
ment conspiracies against Blacks harms the racial self-
esteem of Whites because the U.S. government is a
largely White institution but helps the racial self-esteem
of Blacks by externalizing the cause of problems faced by
Blacks in America. Finally, it is possible that some third
factor, such as knowledge of African American history,
simultaneously increases the plausibility of these con-
spiracy theories and raises racial self-esteem for Blacks
and decreases it for Whites.
If these conspiracy theories do have consequences for
self-esteem, our results suggest that Whites may be moti-
vated to disbelieve in these theories as much or more
than Blacks are motivated to believe in them to protect
self-esteem. Belief in these conspiracies was associated
with lower personal and racial self-esteem among Whites,
and these negative effects were stronger than the posi-
tive effects obtained for Blacks.
Limitations of the study. Several caveats are in order
regarding interpretation of these results. First, the data
are entirely correlational, so the causal direction of the
relationships among belief in government conspiracies
against Blacks and the other measures is not established.
Second, our sample is limited to college students, and
the generalizability of our effects beyond this sample is
not clear. Establishing the generality of these effects, or
the lack thereof, is a high priority for future research.
However, comparing our results with those of the New
York Times/CBS News poll (1990) and Goertzel (1994)
suggests that college students’ beliefs regarding con-
spiracies are quite similar to those of the more general
population.
Finally, the present study concerned belief in a
specific type of conspiracy theory—conspiracies against
Black Americans by the U.S. government. The predic-
tors of these conspiracy theories may be quite different
from predictors of other sorts of conspiracy theories.
Other research that has found that powerlessness and
externality are related to subclinical levels of paranoid
thought (Mirowsky & Ross, 1983) may well describe indi-
viduals who hold many types of conspiracy theories. For
Black students, however, these particular conspiracy
theories do not seem to fit this pattern.
Implications for intergroup relations. Despite these limita-
tions and cautions, these data have potentially important
implications for intergroup relations and for clinical
researchers and practitioners. With respect to inter-
group relations, the credence given to these relatively
extreme theories about the oppression and exploitation
of Blacks by Whites, and especially by the U.S. govern-
ment, suggests a high level of mistrust of White institu-
tions in the United States among our Black respondents.
This mistrust may play itself out in a variety of ways for
these Black college students. For example, it may lead to
what C. M. Steele (1992) has called “disidentification”
with the goals and values of White institutions. Disidenti-
fication is a process by which individuals who feel stigma-
tized by others in some context separate their self-esteem
from their outcomes in that context by deciding that it is
not important to them how well they do. This disidentifi-
cation process may then undermine actual performance
(Spencer, Steele, & Quinn, in press; Steele & Aronson,
1995). Whether Black students who endorse these con-
spiracy theories disidentify with the goals and values of
mainstream cultural institutions is, of course, an empiri-
cal question that we believe merits investigation.
Second, the huge differences between Black and White
students’ scores on the belief in conspiracies scale sug-
gest that Black and White students, at least those in our
sample, exist in very different subjective worlds. What
Black students, on the whole, think might possibly be
true, most White students in our study rejected outright
as a possibility. These different subjective worlds may
make communication and interaction across racial lines
painful and difficult for both Black and White students.
For White students, it may hurt or feel outrageous that
Black students could believe that these conspiracies are
possible. For Black students, it may be painful to have
their construal of reality flatly denied. To avoid these
painful emotions, many Black and White students may
avoid serious discussion of these and related issues across
racial lines.
950 PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY BULLETIN
Clinical implications. To those who are unfamiliar with
these conspiracy theories and their prevalence in the
Black community, these theories about U.S. government
conspiracies against Blacks may be suggestive of para-
noid symptomatology. However, we think such conspir-
acy theories may be best interpreted as an aspect of sys-
tem blame, with potentially beneficial consequences for
Blacks (see Gurin, Gurin, Lao, & Beattie, 1969; Neigh-
bors et al., in press). This suggests that conspiracy theo-
ries among members of disadvantaged or oppressed
groups may have very different meanings and different
implications for clinical diagnoses than superficially
similar thoughts among members of the dominant or
majority group. At the least, clinicians should be aware
that these beliefs are not extremist or fringe beliefs but
rather that they represent an aspect of Black folklore in
the United States (Turner, 1993), are strongly associated
with system blame, and are linked to higher racial self-
esteem in Blacks. Clinicians should be sensitive to the
different meanings that endorsement of these conspir-
acy theories may have for members of different racial or
ethnic groups.
Implications for social programs. Endorsement of these
conspiracy theories may have negative effects not mea-
sured in this study. In particular, belief in U.S. govern-
ment conspiracies may lead Black Americans to be
particularly mistrustful of the government and its repre-
sentatives; alternatively, conspiracy beliefs may be a part
of, or a result of, a more generalized mistrust in the sys-
tem. As a result, Black Americans who endorse these
theories may mistrust government programs intended
to benefit them. For example, the belief that AIDS was
created in a laboratory as a method of racial genocide, or
the belief that the government encourages use of birth
control to reduce the Black birthrate, may have serious
implications for efforts to prevent the spread of AIDS
among Black Americans (Thomas & Quinn, 1991).
Conclusions. Social psychologists have neglected to
study either the precursors or the consequences of these
beliefs for a variety of reasons. First, these beliefs have
gained wide currency in the Black community relatively
recently. Consequently, most social psychologists (who
are mostly White) may be unaware of them. In addition,
many individuals, upon first learning about theories of
conspiracies by the U.S. government against Black
Americans, assume that these beliefs are endorsed only
by fringe elements of the Black community. Our data,
the limited amount of public opinion polling data avail-
able, and the field studies conducted by folklorist Patri-
cia Turner (1993) indicate that this is not the case. We
hope that the present research will convince some social
psychologists that this phenomenon is interesting,
important, and worthy of further research.
APPENDIX A
Belief in U.S. Government Conspiracies Against Blacks
1. Some people say the government deliberately singles
out and investigates Black elected officials to discredit them in
a way it doesn’t do with White officials.
2. Some people say the government deliberately makes
sure that drugs are available in poor Black neighborhoods to
harm Black people.
3. Some people say the virus that causes AIDS was deliber-
ately created in a laboratory to infect Black people.
4. Some people say the high rate of unemployment among
Black people is deliberately created by the government to
maintain an inexpensive pool of workers.
5. Some people say Black people are encouraged to use
birth control as a way to keep the number of Black people
small.
6. Some people say the high rate of school dropouts
among Black people is the result of deliberate attempts to keep
Black people from being educated and getting good jobs.
7. Some people say the high rate of homelessness among
Black people is deliberately created by the government to keep
Black people powerless.
8. Some people say the high rate of single-parent families
among Black people is deliberately encouraged by the govern-
ment to harm Black people.
9. Some people say the government deliberately prevents
Black people from immigrating into this country to keep the
number of Black people small.
10. Some people say doctors are deliberately infecting Black
babies with AIDS to kill Black people.
11. Some people say the government deliberately assigns
the death penalty to Black males more than White males to
harm Black males.
12. Some people say the government takes Black children
away from their families to be raised by others in a deliberate at-
tempt to harm Black families.
13. Some people say Black men are more likely to be put in
jail than White men because the government wants to harm
Black men.
APPENDIX B
System Blame
1. According to current records, and proportionate to their dis-
tribution in the population, many more African Americans are
victims of homicides than Whites.
____ This is due to White’s longstanding prejudice and dis-
crimination against African Americans.a
2. The unemployment rates in America today are twice as high
for African Americans than for Whites.
____ This is due to racism and discrimination.
3. Current statistics show that the teenage pregnancy rate is
much higher for African Americans than for whites.
Crocker et al. / CONSPIRACIES AGAINST BLACKS 951
____ This is because African American teens face discrimi-
nation in health care and economic opportunities.
4. Educational data show that high school drop-out rates are
much higher for African American students than for White stu-
dents.
____ This is due to racism and discrimination that African
American students encounter in the educational sys-
tem.
5. Among convicted criminals, African Americans are more
likely to receive the death penalty than Whites.
____ This is because the legal system is prejudicial and dis-
criminatory.
6. Prison statistics show that, relative to their proportion in the
population, African Americans greatly outnumber Whites in
prisons across the country.
____ This is because the legal system is prejudicial and dis-
criminatory.
7. Single-parent family rates among African American families
are much higher than for White families in the population.
____ This is because of the economic discrimination that
African American families face.
8. Current medical records indicate that, relative to the pro-
portion of African Americans in the population, far more Afri-
can Americans have AIDS or AIDS-related illnesses than
Whites.
____ This is due to prejudice and discrimination in the
health care system in America.
a. Tosave space, only the system blame items are included here. Partici-
pants also rated three filler items for each statement.
NOTES
1. Two of the items (“AIDS created in a laboratory” and “doctors
infecting Black babies with AIDS”) do not explicitly mention the U.S.
government as the conspirator. The former item was included because
it was one of three conspiracy theories included in the New York
Times/CBS News survey (1990). The second was included because it
was mentioned in a speech by an aide to Mayor Harold Washington of
Chicago (DeParle, 1991).
2. Because the coefficient alpha for the externality scale was very
low, we repeated this step entering powerlessness and each of the exter-
nality items individually on the same step. The increment in variance
explained (R2change = .02) was not significant, neither were any of the
betas for the externality items.
3. We also conducted a principal components factor analysis on all
participants, with all items from the belief in conspiracies, system
blame, powerlessness, and externality for negative events scales, speci-
fying a four-factor solution, and VARIMAX rotation. The results were
generally consistent with our assumption that these four scales mea-
sure distinct constructs. All belief in conspiracies items loaded on the
first factor (factor loadings ranging from .73 to .91), and only two other
items (system blame items) loaded on this factor (factor loadings = .65
and .69). All powerlessness items loaded on the second factor (factor
loadings ranging from .55 to .76), and no other items loaded higher
than .14 on this factor. Six of the eight system blame items loaded on
the third factor, with factor loadings ranging from .50 to .63. The two
system blame items that loaded highest on Factor 1 had factor loadings
for Factor 3 of .41 and .36. No other items loaded higher than .31.
Three of the externality for negative events items loaded on the fourth
factor (with factor loadings of .43 to .72). No other items loaded higher
than .33 on this factor. Thus, with all 35 items in the analysis, the factor
solutions is quite similar to the hypothesized constructs. Details of all
factor analyses are available from the first author.
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Received June 30, 1997
Revision Accepted June 13, 1998
Crocker et al. / CONSPIRACIES AGAINST BLACKS 953
... Findings in relation to individual education all seem to suggest a negative correlation, suggesting the higher one's education level increases, the propensity to adopt conspiratorial belief decreases Van Prooijen, Krouwel, & Pollet, 2015). Education is an important demographic marker when discussing an individual's relationship with the adoption of conspiratorial belief, due to education being significantly correlated with already existing predictive attributes to the adoption of conspiratorial belief, such as a belief in paranormal phenomena (Darwin., 2001), low self-esteem Crocker., 1999;Swami et al., 2011), and low feelings of control (Abalakina-Paap et al., 1999). The importance of education level on having the ability to think analytically, and to logically reason cannot be understated, as previous research has pointed out the necessity of having these abilities to protect the individual from adopting conspiracy theories. ...
... Students, particularly relate their level of education to their selfesteem (Crocker., 2002). Only low self-esteem is associated with the adoption of conspiratorial belief, with multiple studies finding a modest relationship between the two variables Crocker., 1999;Swami et al., 2011). ...
... Within these studies, no relationship was found between education and conspiratorial belief which brings up possible mediating factors that could explain its findings that may also relate to our findings. Feelings 26 SOCIAL MEIDA & CONSPIRATORIAL BELIEF of victimization and group marginalisation have been felt by both African Americans in the US for decades, as well as many Muslim countries expressing feelings of marginalisation by western countries (Crocker., 1999). Why group marginalisation is an important factor within these studies is due to previous literature highlighting that identification with a perceived group that is under threat is a predictor of conspiratorial belief (Van Prooijen & Van Dijk, 2014;Kramer.,1998;Swami., 2012). ...
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... Therefore, while conspiracy beliefs are long documented to have negative implications for the functioning of democratic societies (e.g., Jolley & Douglas, 2014a, 2014b, the motivators of these beliefs do not appear to directly stem from attempts to explicitly subvert the societal status quo. Moderation analyses also revealed that the link between anomie/anomia and conspiracy beliefs was not significant for conspiracy mentality, suggesting that some of these perceived threats of societal breakdown may only lead to the adoption of conspiracy theories that are relevant to one's circumstances (e.g., Crocker et al., 1999). ...
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... One possible reason for heterogeneity that could be systematically investigated in future studies is the focus of the respective self-esteem questionnaires, e.g. personal self-esteem , racial self-esteem (Crocker et al., 1999), social self-esteem (Bowes et al., 2020). ...
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