RUNNING HEAD: Narcissism and conspiracy beliefs 1
This is a pre-copy-editing, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in
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Does self-love or self-hate predict conspiracy beliefs?
Narcissism, self-esteem and the endorsement of conspiracy theories
University of Kent
University of Warsaw
Agnieszka Golec de Zavala
Goldsmiths, University of London
Aleksandra Cichocka, School of Psychology, University of Kent, UK. Marta Marchlewska,
Institute for Social Studies, University of Warsaw, Poland. Agnieszka Golec de Zavala,
Department of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London, UK. Preparation of this article
was supported by the funds of the Polish National Science Centre, awarded with the decision
number DEC-2011/01/B/HS6/04637. The authors would like to thank Rael Dawtry, Kristof
Dhont, Karen Douglas, Robbie Sutton, and Giacomo Marchesi. Please direct correspondence
to Aleksandra Cichocka, University of Kent, Keynes College, CT2 7NZ, Canterbury, UK. E-
RUNNING HEAD: Narcissism and conspiracy beliefs 2
Across three studies, we examined the role of self-evaluation in predicting conspiracy
beliefs. Previous research linked the endorsement of conspiracy theories to low self-esteem.
We propose that conspiracy theories should rather be appealing to individuals with
exaggerated feelings of self-love, such as narcissists, due to their paranoid tendencies. In
Study 1 general conspiracist beliefs were predicted by high individual narcissism but low
self-esteem. Study 2 demonstrated that these effects were differentially mediated by paranoid
thoughts, and independent of the effects of collective narcissism. Individual narcissism
predicted generalized conspiracist beliefs, regardless of the conspiracy theories implicating
in-group or out-group members, while collective narcissism predicted belief in out-group but
not in-group conspiracies. Study 3 replicated the effects of individual narcissism and self-
esteem on the endorsement of various specific conspiracy theories and demonstrated that the
negative effect of self-esteem was largely accounted for by the general negativity towards
humans associated with low self-esteem.
Keywords: conspiracy theories, self-esteem, narcissism, collective narcissism, paranoia
RUNNING HEAD: Narcissism and conspiracy beliefs 3
Does self-love or self-hate predict conspiracy beliefs?
Narcissism, self-esteem and the endorsement of conspiracy theories
Although conspiracy theories are often treated as harmless entertainment, they can
have serious societal consequences (Douglas, Sutton, Jolley, & Wood, 2015). For example,
exposure to conspiracy theories can decrease political engagement or pro-environmental
behavior (Jolley & Douglas, 2014a; 2014b). If widespread conspiracy theories affect the
society, then it seems important to understand psychological factors underlying conspiracy
beliefs. One prevalent hypothesis in this line of inquiry has been that conspiracy theories are
usually endorsed by individuals who show poor psychological adjustment or are in some way
socially disadvantaged. Conspiracy beliefs have been linked to powerlessness (Abalakina-
Paap, Stephan, Craig, & Gregory, 1999), feelings of relative deprivation (Bilewicz,
Winiewski, Kofta, & Wójcik, 2013), anomie (Abalakina-Paap et al., 1999; Imhoff & Bruder,
2014), lack of personal control (Whitson & Galinsky, 2008; cf. Bruder, Haffke, Neave,
Nouripanah, & Imhoff, 2013), uncertainty (van Prooijen & Jostmann, 2012; Whitson,
Galinsky, & Kay, 2015), and being a member of a disadvantaged group (Abalkina-Paap et al.,
1999; Crocker, Luhtanen, Broadnax, & Blaine, 1999; Goertzel, 1994). It has been theorized
that belief in others´ conspiratorial actions that unfairly undermine one’s own efforts, can
serve to protect feelings of self-worth (Robins & Post, 1997).
In line with this reasoning, Abalkina-Paap and colleagues (1999) proposed that
conspiracy beliefs should be endorsed by people with low self-esteem “because this permits
them to blame others for their problems” (p. 644). So far, however, evidence linking
conspiracy beliefs to low self-esteem remains inconsistent. Low self-esteem was only a
marginally significant predictor of various conspiracy beliefs in the study by Abalkina-Paap
and colleagues (1999). In other studies, low self-esteem significantly predicted endorsement
of some conspiracy theories (e.g., concerning the London bombings of July 7, 2005, Swami
RUNNING HEAD: Narcissism and conspiracy beliefs 4
et al., 2011; see also Swami & Furnham, 2012) but not others (e.g., concerning conspiratorial
actions of Jews, Swami, 2012; see also Crocker et al., 1999; Stieger, Gumhalter, Tran,
Voracek, & Swami, 2013). Similarly, general conspiracist ideation was negatively correlated
with self-esteem in a study by Stieger and colleagues (2013; although the correlation was
significant only in the first wave of measurement) but this relationship was weaker and non-
significant in a study by Swami (2012).
We suggest that linking conspiracy beliefs to low self-esteem could have been
premature. There are in fact reasons to believe that the endorsement of conspiracy theories
might be more strongly associated with excessively positive view of the self. Convictions
about others’ malevolent intentions have been linked to individual narcissism, which is
characterised by a pattern of grandiosity accompanied by the need for external validation
(Freud, 1914/2012; Fromm, 1964/2010; Raskin & Terry, 1988; Robins & Post, 1997; Wulff,
1987). Narcissists tend to believe they are unique and special compared to other people
(Reynolds & Lejuez, 2011) but, at the same time, they are excessively preoccupied with how
others see them (Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001; Horvath & Morf, 2009). Research shows that
such heightened self-reference and awareness of others’ perceptions can foster paranoia—a
tendency to perceive others’ actions as intentionally malicious (Feningsten & Vanable, 1992;
see Cameron, 1959; Cicero & Kerns, 2011; Raskin & Terry, 1988). Paranoia has been
identified as a robust predictor of conspiracy beliefs, which correspond to a more specific
conviction that a major political or social event is intentionally caused by “a secret plot by a
covert alliance of powerful individuals or organizations” (Douglas & Suttton, 2011, p. 3; e.g.,
Bruder et al., 2013; Darwin, Neale, & Holmes, 2011; Grzesiak-Feldman, 2015; Kramer &
Schaffer, 2014; Wilson & Rose, 2014). Melley (2002) suggested that it is the intentionality
bias that makes the paranoid prone to perceive significant events as being caused by
conspiracies. By integrating these perspectives, we predict that narcissists should be
RUNNING HEAD: Narcissism and conspiracy beliefs 5
especially likely to endorse conspiracy theories, as due to their sensitivity to others’
perceptions they show paranoid tendencies.
Importantly, the propositions that conspiracy beliefs are related to low self-esteem and
to high individual narcissism are not necessarily contradictory. In fact, one reason for the
inconsistent link between self-esteem and conspiracy beliefs, revealed by previous studies,
could be that typical measures of self-esteem do not distinguish between self-evaluation that
is narcissistic versus secure (i.e., without the defensive component captured by narcissism;
Horney, 1939; Kernis, 2003; Paulhus, Robins, Trzesniewski, & Tracy, 2004). Narcissistic and
secure self-esteem overlap in favourable self-evaluation but when they are considered in the
same regression analysis, we can observe their unique effects (Paulhus et al., 2004). For
example, previous research demonstrated that low self-esteem becomes a predictor of
antisocial behaviour only when the variance it shares with individual narcissism is accounted
for. Moreover, when both variables are considered, the effects of narcissism on antisocial
behaviour tend to significantly strengthen (Locke, 2009; Paulhus et al., 2004). Such a pattern
of results indicates a suppression effect, in which inclusion of a suppressor variable in the
analyses “increases the predictive validity of another variable” (Conger, 1974, pp. 36–37;
MacKinnon, Krull, & Lockwood, 2000). Therefore, to fully examine the link between
conspiracy beliefs and self-evaluation, both narcissism and self-esteem should be considered.
The aim of the current research is to shed light on the role of individual narcissism
and self-esteem in predicting conspiracy beliefs. In three studies we test the hypothesis that
when the overlap between self-esteem and individual narcissism is controlled for, conspiracy
beliefs will be predicted by high individual narcissism and low self-esteem. We also examine
whether the effects of individual narcissism versus self-esteem on conspiracy beliefs are
mediated by paranoid ideation (Study 2) or whether they can be accounted for by a general
RUNNING HEAD: Narcissism and conspiracy beliefs 6
negativity towards humans (Study 3). In addition, given that conspiracy theories often
presume an intergroup dimension (Kofta & Sędek, 2005; van Prooijen & van Lange, 2014),
in Study 2 we examine whether the effects differ depending on the conspiracy theories
involving in-group or out-group members. In all studies, we report how we determined our
sample size, all data exclusions, all manipulations, and all measures.
In Study 1 we tested the hypothesis that conspiracy beliefs would be predicted by high
individual narcissism but low self-esteem. We expected self-esteem and individual narcissism
to work as mutual suppressors in predicting conspiracy beliefs—considering both aspects of
self-evaluation together should strengthen their initial relationships with conspiracy beliefs.
Participants and procedure. We aimed to collect data from at least 200 Mturk
workers. For consistency, we asked only for workers located in the US. The survey was
completed by 202 participants
, 74 women, 128 men, aged 18-72 (M=31.27, SD=10.46).
Most participants reported having a university degree (n=124) and White (non-Hispanic) as
their ethnicity (n=152)
. Participants filled out measures of self-esteem, individual narcissism
and conspiracy beliefs presented (counterbalanced).
In all studies, only completed surveys were analyzed. Study 1 included an attention check.
Excluding data from 13 participants who failed it did not affect the results.
None of the demographic variables was associated with conspiracy beliefs in Study 1. In
Studies 2 and 3 ethnic minorities endorsed conspiracy theories more strongly than Whites.
Unless stated otherwise, the pattern of results remained similar when we adjusted for
demographics (age, gender, ethnicity, education in Studies 1 and 2; age, gender, ethnicity in
Study 3) in the regression analyses.
RUNNING HEAD: Narcissism and conspiracy beliefs 7
Conspiracy beliefs were measured with the 15 item Generic Conspiracist Beliefs
Scale (Brotherton, French, & Pickering, 2013). Participants were asked to what extent they
agree with statements such as “New and advanced technology which would harm current
industry is being suppressed.” on a scale from 1=definitely not true to 5=definitely true,
α=.93, M=2.66, SD=0.86.
Self-esteem was measured with Rosenberg’s (1965) self-esteem scale. Participants
responded to 10 items on a scale from 1=strongly disagree to 5=strongly agree, α=.93,
Individual narcissism was measured with a simplified version (Ang & Yusof, 2006)
of the 40-item Narcissistic Personality Inventory (Emmons, 1987; Raskin & Hall, 1979).
Participants rated to what extent statements representing narcissistic traits described them on
a scale from 1=not at all like me to 5=very much like me, α=.96, M=2.79, SD=0.70.
Zero-order correlations. Individual narcissism was significantly positively
correlated with self-esteem, r(200)=.41[.27, .53]
, p<.001, and conspiracy beliefs,
r(200)=.24[.10, .38], p<.001. The correlation between conspiracy beliefs and self-esteem was
non-significant, r(200)= -.08[-.22, .07], p=.29.
Self-esteem and individual narcissism as predictors of conspiracy beliefs. In order
to test the suppression hypothesis, we included self-esteem and individual narcissism together
as predictors of conspiracy beliefs in a regression model. When the overlap between
individual narcissism and self-esteem was adjusted for, the effect of narcissism on conspiracy
beliefs remained positive and significant, B=0.41[0.23, 0.57], SE=0.09, β=.33, p<.001, while
Across all manuscript, square brackets include 95% bootstrapped bias-corrected confidence
intervals (10,000 resamples).
RUNNING HEAD: Narcissism and conspiracy beliefs 8
the effect of self-esteem became significantly negative, B= -0.20 [-0.34, -0.06], SE=0.07, β= -
.21, p=.01; F(2, 199)=10.55, p<.001, R
We then tested whether the inclusion of narcissism in the regression model increased
the predictive validity of self-esteem resulting in a suppression effect. We used Mplus7
(Muthén & Muthén, 1998-2012). Program defaults were used for the estimator and treatment
of missing data (the same settings were used for all path analyses). Bootstrapping analysis
confirmed a significant suppressing effect of narcissism, standardized estimate=.13 [0.06,
0.21], p<.001, indicating that the effect of self-esteem strengthened when narcissism was
included in the model. We also tested whether inclusion of self-esteem in the model increased
the predictive validity of narcissism. Bootstrapping analysis confirmed a significant
suppressing effect of self-esteem, standardized estimate= -.09[-.15, -.02], p=.01, indicating
that the positive effect of narcissism strengthened when self-esteem was included in the
model (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Individual narcissism and self-esteem predicting conspiracy beliefs across all
studies. Solid lines indicate standardized regression coefficients. Dashed lines indicate
bivariate correlations. S
= Study 1, S
= Study 2, S
= Study 3.
= .24***, S
= .25***, S
= -.08, S
= .05, S
= -.21**, S
RUNNING HEAD: Narcissism and conspiracy beliefs 9
p < .10. * p < .05. ** p < .01.*** p < .001.
The results of Study 1 provide initial support for our hypothesis that adjusting for the
overlap between self-esteem and individual narcissism reveals the opposite relationships
these variables have with belief in conspiracy theories. When the variance shared between
these variables was accounted for, the negative relationship between self-esteem and
conspiracy beliefs became significant, while the positive relationship between individual
narcissism and conspiracy beliefs strengthened. Thus, only with individual narcissism
partialled out did low self-esteem predict conspiracy beliefs.
In Study 2 we examined whether the effects of high individual narcissism and low
self-esteem on conspiracy beliefs are mediated by paranoid thought. We expected high
individual narcissism and low self-esteem to be associated with paranoia which should
further foster conspiracist ideation. Moreover, because conspiracy theories often refer to
malevolent actions of groups (e.g., Kofta & Sędek, 2005), we wanted to distinguish whether
it is a narcissistic image of the self or the group that predicts the endorsement of conspiracy
theories. Previous research has linked conspiracy beliefs to collective narcissism—belief in-
group’s greatness associated with a conviction that others do not appreciate the in-group
enough (Golec de Zavala, Cichocka, Eidelson, & Jayawickreme, 2009).
Collective narcissism seems to foster beliefs in conspiratorial intentions of out-group
members. For example, Polish national collective narcissism predicted the endorsement of
conspiracy stereotypes of Jews (Golec de Zavala & Cichocka, 2012). Similarly, American
collective narcissism predicted the endorsement of conspiracy theories involving foreign
governments but not the American government (Cichocka, Golec de Zavala, Marchlewska, &
RUNNING HEAD: Narcissism and conspiracy beliefs 10
Olechowski, 2015). Presumably, due to their high concern with the in-group image, collective
narcissists are less likely to endorse conspiracy theories involving members of their in-group.
Because individual and collective narcissism tend to be positively correlated (Golec
de Zavala et al., 2009; Golec de Zavala, Cichocka, & Iskra-Golec, 2013), in Study 2 we
sought to demonstrate the unique effect of individual narcissism on conspiracy beliefs over
and above collective narcissism. Moreover, because individual narcissists should be less
concerned with the in-group image, we expected individual narcissism to predict
endorsement of conspiracy theories regardless of these theories implicating members of in-
groups or out-groups.
Participants and procedure. We aimed to collect data from at least 275 Mturk
workers located in the US. The survey was completed by 276 participants. Because Study 2
examined effects for beliefs of intergroup conspiracies, we excluded data from participants
who reported the nationality they most identify with as other than American or mixed
American (n=7). The final sample included 269 participants, 144 women, 124 men (1
unknown), aged 18-79 (M=32.81, SD=12.54), 161 with a university degree, 196 White (non-
First, participants completed measures of individual and collective narcissism and
. Afterwards, they completed a paranoid thought scale. Finally,
they were randomly assigned to complete one of two versions of the conspiracy beliefs scale.
In the in-group version (n=140) they were asked to think about the American government and
answer questions about belief in the government’s conspiratorial actions. In the out-group
Study 2 included a single item measure of inclusion of the in-group in the self (Tropp &
Wright, 2001). When we included this measure as a covariate in the regression analyses, the
pattern of results remained similar.
RUNNING HEAD: Narcissism and conspiracy beliefs 11
version (n=129) they were asked to think about foreign governments and answer a similar set
of questions but in relation to conspiratorial actions of foreign governments (see
Conspiracy beliefs were measured with 11 items based on the Generic Conspiracist
Beliefs Scale (Brotherton et al., 2013) used in Study 1. Participants first read instructions
indicating that they will rate statements in relation to the American government or foreign
governments on a scale from 1=definitely not true to 5=definitely true. Items were chosen
based on whether they could apply to own versus foreign governments, e.g., “Foreign
governments [the American government] use[s] people as patsies to hide involvement in
criminal activity”, α=.91, M=2.95, SD=0.85.
Self-esteem was measured with the single-item self-esteem measure (Robins, Hendin,
& Trzesniewski, 2001). Participants indicated whether the statement “I have high self-
esteem” applies to them on a scale from 1=not very true of me to 7=very true of me, M=4.50,
Individual narcissism was measured as in Study 1, α=.95, M=2.77, SD=0.69.
Collective narcissism was measured with the 5-item Collective Narcissism Scale
(Golec de Zavala, Cichocka, & Bilewicz, 2013). Participants responded to items measuring
their sentiments towards their national group (e.g., “Americans deserve special treatment”) on
a scale from 1=definitely disagree to 6=definitely agree, α=.88, M=2.58, SD=1.17.
Paranoid thought was measured with the 20-item Paranoia Scale (Fenigstein &
Vanable, 1992). Participants were asked to respond to each item (e.g., “Someone has it in for
RUNNING HEAD: Narcissism and conspiracy beliefs 12
me”) on a scale from 1=not at all applicable to me to 5=extremely applicable to me, α=.92,
Zero-order correlations. Self-esteem and the two forms of narcissism were all
significantly positively correlated (Table 1). Conspiracy beliefs were significantly positively
correlated with individual and collective narcissism (p=.04) and paranoid thought, and
positively although not-significantly (p=.47) correlated with self-esteem. Paranoid thought
was significantly positively correlated with individual narcissism (p=.004), significantly
negatively with self-esteem, and marginally positively with collective narcissism (p=.08).
Zero-order Correlations [and 95% Confidence Intervals] between Continuous Variables
2. Individual narcissism
3. Collective narcissism
4. Paranoid thought
5. Conspiracy beliefs
p < .10. * p < .05. ** p < .01. *** p < .001.
RUNNING HEAD: Narcissism and conspiracy beliefs 13
Self-esteem and individual narcissism as predictors of conspiracy beliefs. We
examined self-esteem and individual narcissism as predictors of conspiracy beliefs by
including both of them in the regression analysis as predictors, adjusting for the content of
conspiracies (coded -1=own, 1=foreign government[s]). The model was significant, F(3,
263)=7.48, p<.001, R
=.08. When the overlap between individual narcissism and self-esteem
was adjusted for, individual narcissism remained a positive predictor of conspiracy beliefs,
B=0.35[0.18, 0.53], SE=0.09, β=.29, p<.001, while self-esteem became a negative,
marginally significant, predictor of conspiracy beliefs, B= -0.06[-0.12, 0.01], SE=0.03, β= -
. Bootstrapping analysis in MPlus7 confirmed a significant suppression effects via
individual narcissism, standardized estimate=.16[.08, .24], p<.001, indicating that the effect
of self-esteem strengthened when individual narcissism was included in the model. The
indirect effect via self-esteem was marginally significant, standardized estimate= -.06[-0.14,
0.01], p=.08, indicating that although the positive effect of individual narcissism on
conspiracy beliefs remained significant it did not strengthen significantly when self-esteem
was included in the model. The pattern of results remained similar when we adjusted for
We then examined whether these opposing relationships would be differentially
mediated via paranoid thought. In MPlus7 we tested a path model with self-esteem and
individual narcissism as predictors (both included in the model command), conspiracy beliefs
as the outcome, paranoid thought as a mediator, and condition as a covariate (Figure 2).
When we included demographics as covariates the negative effect for self-esteem became
significant, B= -0.07, SE=0.04, β= -.16, p=.04.
RUNNING HEAD: Narcissism and conspiracy beliefs 14
Figure 2. Indirect effect of individual narcissism and self-esteem on conspiracy beliefs via
paranoid thought (Study 2). Entries are standardized coefficients. Paths for the covariate
(scale version) are not presented in the model for simplicity.
p < .10. *** p < .001.
Individual narcissism was a significant positive predictor of paranoia, B=0.51[0.38,
0.65], SE=0.07, β=.47, p<.001, which was in turn a positive predictor of conspiracy beliefs,
B=0.42[0.28, 0.56], SE=0.07, β=.37, p<.001. Moreover, when paranoia was included as a
mediator, the positive effect of individual narcissism on conspiracy beliefs became weaker
and marginally significant, B=0.15[-0.03, 0.33], SE=0.09, β=.12, p=.09. The indirect effect of
individual narcissism on conspiracy beliefs via paranoia was significant, with the
standardized estimate=.17[.10, .25], p<.001.
Self-esteem was a significant negative predictor of paranoia, B= -0.24[-0.29, -0.19],
SE=0.03, β= -.56, p<.001. When paranoia was included as a mediator, the effect of self-
esteem on conspiracy beliefs became positive and non-significant, B=0.05[-0.02, 0.12],
SE=0.04, β=.10, p=.20. The indirect effect of self-esteem on conspiracy beliefs via paranoia
was significant and negative, with the standardized estimate= -0.21[-0.29, -0.13], p<.001. The
RUNNING HEAD: Narcissism and conspiracy beliefs 15
indirect effects were not conditional on the content of conspiracy theories and remained
significant when we adjusted for collective narcissism.
Tests of alternative models revealed a significant, yet smaller, indirect effect of
individual narcissism on paranoia via conspiracy beliefs, standardized estimate=.09[.04, .14],
p=.001, and a non-significant effect of self-esteem on paranoia via conspiracy beliefs= -.03[-
.07, .01], p=.10. Both the effects of paranoia on conspiracy beliefs via narcissism=.02[-.01,
.05], p=.17, and via self-esteem= -.03[-.08, .02], p=.22, were non-significant.
Individual and collective narcissism as predictors of in-group versus out-group
conspiracy beliefs. Finally, we checked whether the effects of collective and individual
narcissism, as well as self-esteem on conspiracy beliefs were dependent on the conspiracy
content. In a regression analysis we included the conspiracy content, collective narcissism,
individual narcissism and self-esteem, and three two-way interactions of conspiracy content
with the continuous predictors. The whole model was significant, F(7, 259)=4.31, p<.001,
=.10. Conspiracy content moderated only the effects of collective narcissism on conspiracy
beliefs, B=0.11[0.01, 0.20], SE=0.05, β=.15, p=.02. Simple slopes analysis indicated that
collective narcissism was positively associated with conspiracy beliefs in the out-group
conspiracies condition, B=0.16[0.01, 0.30], SE=0.07, β=.22, p=.03, and negatively, but not
significantly, in the in-group conspiracies condition, B= -0.06[-0.19, 0.07], SE=0.06, β= -
0.09, p=.30. The interactions between individual narcissism and conspiracy content, B= -
0.11[-0.30, 0.09], SE=0.09, β= -.09, p=.23, and between self-esteem and conspiracy content,
B= -0.02[-0.08, 0.04], SE=0.03, β= -.04, p=.54, were non-significant
. When we adjusted for
paranoid thought, the pattern of results remained the same. We also tested whether the effect
When individual interactions are included in the model, the interaction of collective
narcissism and content is marginally significant, B=0.08, SE=0.04, β=.11, p=.07, while the
other two interactions remain non-significant, both βs= -.06, ps>.33.
RUNNING HEAD: Narcissism and conspiracy beliefs 16
of collective narcissism on conspiracy beliefs was mediated by paranoid thought but this
effect was non-significant and was not conditional on the content of conspiracies.
Study 2 corroborated the results of Study 1 by demonstrating that individual
narcissism suppresses the link between self-esteem and conspiracy beliefs. Self-esteem alone
was not significantly correlated with conspiracy beliefs, but it became a marginally
significant negative predictor of conspiracy beliefs when its overlap with individual
narcissism was adjusted for. Individual narcissism was significantly positively correlated with
conspiracy beliefs and this effect remained significant when we adjusted for self-esteem.
Study 2 also demonstrated that paranoid thought was associated with high individual
narcissism but low self-esteem. Moreover, paranoid thought differentially mediated the
relationship between conspiracy beliefs and these two types of self-evaluation and these
effects were larger than those of competing indirect effects models.
Finally, Study 2 revealed that individual narcissism predicted conspiracy beliefs even
when adjusting for its overlap with collective narcissism. The effect of individual narcissism
on the endorsement of conspiracy theories was not moderated by whether these theories
involved own versus foreign governments, while collective narcissism significantly predicted
only the endorsement of conspiracy theories about foreign governments (replicating previous
research; Cichocka et al., 2015).
As in Study 1, in Study 2 individual narcissism was a significant predictor of
conspiracy belief. However, in Study 2 the negative effect of self-esteem on conspiracy
beliefs was weaker than in Study 1 and only marginally significant. We therefore sought to
RUNNING HEAD: Narcissism and conspiracy beliefs 17
replicate the suppression effect with the use of a larger sample of at least 500 participants,
which should allow for detecting even small indirect effects with the use of bias-corrected
bootstrapping (assuming power of .80; Fritz & MacKinnon, 2007). Moreover, we tested the
robustness of our findings by implementing a different measure of conspiracy beliefs. While
in Studies 1 and 2 we measured generic conspiracist ideation (Brotherton et al., 2013), in
Study 3 we asked participants about specific conspiracy theories (Douglas, Sutton, Callan,
Dawtry, & Harvey, in press). Finally, we examined whether the effects of narcissism and
self-esteem on conspiracy beliefs can be accounted for by generalized negative opinions
about people (see Abalkina-Paap et al., 1999; Douglas & Stutton, 2011)
. Hence, we included
a measure of humanity esteem (Luke & Maio, 2009), which captures “a general favorable or
unfavorable evaluation of humanity” (p. 592).
Participants and procedure. We aimed to collect data from 510 Mturk workers
located in the US. The survey was completed by 516 participants, 310 women, 206 men, aged
18-75 (M=35.32, SD=13.10), 387 White (non-Hispanic). Participants filled out measures of
self-esteem, individual narcissism, conspiracy beliefs and humanity esteem
Conspiracy beliefs were measured with a 7-item Conspiracist Beliefs Scale (Douglas
et al., in press). Participants were asked to what extent they agree with a series of statements
about well-known conspiracy theories, e.g., “The American moon landings were faked.” on a
scale from 1=strongly disagree to 7=strongly agree, α=.82, M=2.47, SD=1.20.
We are grateful to an anonymous Reviewer for this suggestion.
Study 3 also included measures of ideology and prejudice for purposes of a different
RUNNING HEAD: Narcissism and conspiracy beliefs 18
Self-esteem was measured as in Study 1, α=.93, M=3.79, SD=0.92.
Individual narcissism was measured with the Narcissistic Personality Inventory
(Raskin & Hall, 1979). Participants were presented with 40 pairs of diagnostic and non-
diagnostic items and were asked to choose the ones that describe them best, α=.88, M=.30,
Humanity esteem was measured with the 10-item Humanity-Esteem Scale (e.g., “I
take a positive attitude toward humanity”; Luke & Maio, 2009). Participants indicated to
what extent they agree with the statements on a scale from 1=strongly disagree to 7=strongly
agree, α=.88, M=5.17, SD=1.07.
Zero-order correlations. Self-esteem was significantly positively correlated with
individual narcissism and humanity esteem. Humanity esteem was unrelated to narcissism,
p=.68. Conspiracy beliefs were significantly positively correlated with individual narcissism
and not significantly with self-esteem, p=.78. Conspiracy beliefs were significantly
negatively correlated with humanity esteem (Table 2).
Zero-order Correlations [and 95% Confidence Intervals] between Continuous Variables
2. Individual narcissism
RUNNING HEAD: Narcissism and conspiracy beliefs 19
3. Humanity esteem
4. Conspiracy beliefs
*** p < .001.
Self-esteem and individual narcissism as predictors of conspiracy beliefs. We first
tested for a suppression effect. When the overlap between individual narcissism and self-
esteem was adjusted for, the effect of individual narcissism on conspiracy beliefs remained
positive and significant, B=2.24[1.68, 2.84], SE=0.28, β=.35, p<.001, while the effect of self-
esteem became significantly negative, B= -0.11[-0.22, -0.01], SE=0.06, β= -.09, p=.049; F(2,
513)=32.78, p<.001, R
=.11. Bootstrapping analysis confirmed a significant suppressing
effect of individual narcissism, standardized estimate=.10[0.06, 0.13], p<.001, indicating that
the effect of self-esteem strengthened when narcissism was included in the model.
Bootstrapping analysis also confirmed a significant suppressing effect of self-esteem,
standardized estimate= -.02[-0.05, -0.001], p=.045, indicating that the positive effect of
narcissism strengthened when self-esteem was included in the model.
We then examined whether these opposing relationships are accounted for by
humanity esteem by testing a path model in Mplus7 with self-esteem and individual
narcissism as predictors (included in the model command), conspiracy beliefs as the outcome,
and examining the indirect effect of humanity esteem. Individual narcissism was a significant
negative predictor of humanity esteem, B= -0.92[-1.41, -0.46], SE=0.24, β= -.16, p<.001,
which was a negative predictor of conspiracy beliefs, B= -0.20[-0.31, -0.09], SE=0.06, β= -
RUNNING HEAD: Narcissism and conspiracy beliefs 20
.18, p<.001. When humanity esteem was included in the model, the effect of individual
narcissism on conspiracy beliefs remained significant, B=2.06[1.47, 2.63], SE=0.30, β=.32, p
< .001 and the indirect effect of individual narcissism on conspiracy beliefs via humanity
esteem was significant, standardized estimate=.03[.01, .05], p=.01.
Self-esteem was a significant positive predictor of humanity esteem, B=0.60[0.50,
0.69], SE=0.05, β=.51, p<.001. When humanity esteem was included in the model, the effect
of self-esteem on conspiracy beliefs became non-significant, B=0.01[-0.12, 0.13], SE=0.06,
β=.004, p=.93. The indirect effect of self-esteem on conspiracy beliefs via paranoid thought
was significant and negative, standardized estimate= -0.09[-0.14, -0.04], p<.001.
Tests of alternative models revealed a significant indirect effect of individual
narcissism on humanity esteem via conspiracy beliefs= -.05[-.09, -.02], p=.001 and a
marginally significant effect of self-esteem on humanity esteem via conspiracy beliefs=.01[-
.001, .03], p=.07. Both the effects of humanity esteem on conspiracy beliefs via narcissism= -
.01[-.04, .02], p=.71, and via self-esteem=.002[-.04, .05], p=.93, were non-significant.
In Study 3 self-esteem and individual narcissism acted as mutual suppressors in
predicting conspiracy beliefs. When we adjusted for their overlap, the positive effect of
narcissism strengthened, and the non-significant effect of self-esteem became significantly
negative. Moreover, when we accounted for the effects of humanity esteem, the effect of
narcissism on conspiracy decreased slightly but remained significant, while the effect of self-
esteem became non-significant and close to zero. This suggests that the effect of low self-
esteem on conspiracy beliefs can be largely attributed to the fact that low self-esteem predicts
negative perceptions of humanity more broadly.
RUNNING HEAD: Narcissism and conspiracy beliefs 21
Results of three studies demonstrated that the endorsement of conspiracy theories is
positively associated with individual narcissism. Individual narcissism was a robust predictor
of general conspiracy ideation (Studies 1 and 2) as well as of beliefs in several specific
conspiracy theories (Study 3). In Study 2 individual narcissism predicted the endorsement of
conspiracy theories regardless of these theories implicating in-group or out-group members.
This effect remained significant even when we accounted for collective narcissism—another
variable frequently linked to the endorsement of conspiracy theories (Cichocka et al., 2015).
Moreover, Study 3 demonstrated that individual narcissism remained a significant predictor
of conspiracy beliefs when we accounted for general negativity towards humanity. We
suggest that individual narcissists might be especially prone to believe in conspiracy theories
due to their elevated self-consciousness connected with exaggerated feelings of being in the
centre of others’ attention (Emmons, 1987; Tracy & Robins, 2004) and perceiving others’
behaviour as intentionally targeted against them (Fenigstein & Vanable, 1992). Such
perceptions are linked to higher degrees of paranoid thoughts which, in turn, foster proneness
for conspiracy beliefs (Grzesiak-Feldman, 2015; Kramer, 1998). Indeed, Study 2
demonstrated that the effect of individual narcissism on conspiracy beliefs was driven by
In all studies self-esteem alone was not significantly correlated with belief in
conspiracy theories. Nevertheless, when the overlap between individual narcissism and self-
esteem was accounted for, self-esteem became a significant or marginally significant negative
predictor of conspiracy beliefs. This suggests that conspiracy beliefs are negatively associated
with secure self-esteem (i.e., self-evaluation without the narcissistic component; Paulhus et
al., 2004). However, across all studies this effect was weaker than that of narcissism and
became close to zero once we accounted for the relationship between low self-esteem and
RUNNING HEAD: Narcissism and conspiracy beliefs 22
negativity towards humanity (Study 3). Overall, these results shed light on why previous
research might have yielded inconsistent results pertaining to the link between self-evaluation
and conspiracy beliefs (Abalkina-Paap et al., 1999; Crocker et al., 1999; Stieger et al., 2013;
Swami, 2012). The current findings challenge the assumption that conspiracy theories are
endorsed only by those who lack confidence (Abalakina-Paap et al., 1999; Goertzel, 1994).
Rather, our results suggest that conspiracy beliefs might be associated with self-promotional
personality characteristics, such as individual narcissism.
Of course, as our studies were correlational, they do not allow us to establish causal
relationships between the variables. There are reasons to believe that narcissism and self-
esteem are basic personality predispositions predicting the more malleable conspiracy beliefs
and we hope that the current research offers at least preliminary indication of the
psychological mechanism that drives these connections. Nevertheless, it is also possible that
these predispositions affect each other in a dynamic system (Cunningham, Nezlek, & Banaji,
2004). Further research would do well to examine the causal pathways of the proposed
mediation model as well as to investigate the consequences exposure to conspiracy theories
might have for the individual self-concept.
RUNNING HEAD: Narcissism and conspiracy beliefs 23
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