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Creationism and conspiracism share a common teleological bias

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Abstract

Teleological thinking — the attribution of purpose and a final cause to natural events and entities — has long been identified as a cognitive hindrance to the acceptance of evolution, yet its association to beliefs other than creationism has not been investigated. Here, we show that conspiracism — the proneness to explain socio-historical events in terms of secret and malevolent conspiracies — is also associated to a teleological bias. Across three correlational studies (N > 2000), we found robust evidence of a teleological link between conspiracism and creationism, which was partly independent from religion, politics, age, education, agency detection, analytical thinking and perception of randomness. As a resilient ‘default’ component of early cognition, teleological thinking is thus associated with creationist as well as conspiracist beliefs, which both entail the distant and hidden involvement of a purposeful and final cause to explain complex worldly events.

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... As perception of agency and human intentions is also related to religious and paranormal beliefs (see, e.g., Willard & Norenzayan, 2013), an hypothesis could be that detection of faces may be related to the attribution of human intentionality in occurring events, which is related to CTs beliefs too (as measured through anthropomorphism, agency detection, teleological thinking, etc.; Brotherton & French, 2015;Imhoff & Bruder, 2014;Douglas et al., 2015;van der Tempel & Alcock, 2015;van Elk, 2013;Wagner-Egger et al., 2018). ...
... Still, Wagner-Egger et al. (2018) did not observe either significant correlations between CTs beliefs (General, Classical, Interpersonal and Political CTs) and randomness perception of two-dimensional pictures (composed of black and white cells organized in 10 by 10 grids), in a sample of 175 University students (study 1). They reported, however, a small significant negative correlation of -.14 between General CTs beliefs (CMQ, Bruder et al., 2013) and randomness perception of binary strings of heads and tails in their third study (N = 733 students and professionals from Switzerland and France recruited on social media). ...
... Regardless of the specific way of defining and testing randomness perception, PBs have been more regularly correlated with randomness perception than CTs (Adam-Troian et al., 2019;van Prooijen et al., 2018;Wagner-Egger et al., 2018). One of our goals in this study is to assess to what extent the instructions and/or the algorithmic complexity may explain the diverging results observed in the literature to date. ...
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Abstract: Perception of randomness, patterns in visual noise, and coincidences have been associated with propensity to endorse paranormal and conspiracist beliefs. There is, however, controversial evidence about the relationships and related explanatory paths. Whereas some studies report a strong association between pattern and randomness perception, and conspiracy theory beliefs, others note only a weak association or none at all. And while paranormal beliefs have been associated with randomness perception and are routinely correlated with conspiracy theory endorsement, the exact relationships, and differences of both types of belief remain elusive. The present research sought to resolve these issues by assessing the predictive power of several factors in competition, such as pattern, randomness, and coincidence perception, using different paradigms in two studies including four samples of participants, as well as a meta-analysis of all findings, testing twelve hypotheses in the process. We find that belief in conspiracy theories was best predicted by coincidence perception, whereas paranormal beliefs were best predicted by illusory pattern perception. Our findings help clarifying the distinction between pattern, randomness and coincidence perception, which are often conflated in the literature on nonconventional beliefs and qualifies the widespread idea that believers in conspiracy theories tend to reject randomness.
... Several studies have found that people who are predisposed or motivated to dismiss randomness as a possible cause for an event are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories (Dieguez et al., 2015;van Prooijen et al., 2018). Though this general idea is highly influential in the literature on conspiracy theories (e.g., Barkun, 2003;Brotherton, 2019;Sunstein & Vermeule, 2009;Taleb, 2005;van Prooijen et al., 2020;Whitson & Galinsky, 2008), the empirical evidence is actually mixed with several null effects (e.g., Adam-Troian, et al., 2019;Dieguez et al., 2015;Ståhl & van Prooijen, 2018;van der Wal et al., 2018;van Prooijen et al., 2018;Wagner-Egger et al., 2018; see also Melley, 2020). To better understand the relationship between these two variables, the current paper examines the robustness and generality of this idea in a preregistered replication and meta-analysis. ...
... Across three studies, there was no tendency to dismiss the possibility that the letter strings were produced by a random process and their conspiracist ideation. Another paper conducted a similar study and found a moderate relationship between randomness dismissal and conspiracist ideation (Wagner-Egger et al., 2018 Study 3). However, this relationship became non-significant when the authors statistically adjusted for other relevant variables such as cognitive reflection. ...
... 3 First, we examined the role of statistical power due to small effect sizes. Most of the 3 Note that some researchers (e.g., Dieguez et al., 2015;Wagner-Egger et al., 2018) presented letter strings that covered a broad range of possible normative randomness. Other researchers (e.g., van Prooijen et al., 2018;Ståhl & van Prooijen, 2018) used letter strings that were created so that the generated distribution aligned with the expected distribution of a random process. ...
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A large body of research has found mixed evidence that people who are quick to dismiss randomness as a potential cause for an event are also more likely to believe conspiracy theories. To clarify the relationship between randomness dismissal and conspiracist ideation, we conducted a high-powered preregistered replication of an influential study in the United States (n = 521) and Switzerland (n = 293), and a meta-analysis of the literature (N = 55 effect sizes). Both our study (.03 < r < .15) and meta-analysis (r = .16) found small, but positive and robust relationships between randomness dismissal and conspiracist ideation. Our replication investigated differences in statistical power, culture, and education as potential explanations for the conflicting findings in the literature. None of these factors could fully account for the mixed findings, although culture had an unexpected moderating role. Our study suggests that the relationship between randomness dismissal and conspiracist ideation is small and contextually sensitive.
... This is the reason why one of us recently equated conspiracist ideation as "bullshit" and wrote that "conspiracy theories do not exist" [43]. 9 See for example [24]- [37]. 10 The idea that the conspiracy mentality could be strong enough to lead to agree with two contradictory conspiracy theories has indeed not been proved by Wood, Douglas and Sutton [40], contrary to what they claim in their paper (i.e., that some people believe for example that Oussama Ben Laden was dead before the intervention of the US Army in 2011 in Pakistan, AND is still living somewhere). ...
... Numerous researches show that believers in conspiracy theories are, on average, less rational than non-believers. People who adhere to conspiracy theories will tend to embrace a wide range of irrational ideas, such as belief in paranormal phenomena, magical ideation and superstition [24]- [29], [34], [44]- [47] , anthropomorphism or animism [5], [24], [48], [49], [58], "bullshit" receptivity [50], [51], and creationism [24]. ...
... Numerous researches show that believers in conspiracy theories are, on average, less rational than non-believers. People who adhere to conspiracy theories will tend to embrace a wide range of irrational ideas, such as belief in paranormal phenomena, magical ideation and superstition [24]- [29], [34], [44]- [47] , anthropomorphism or animism [5], [24], [48], [49], [58], "bullshit" receptivity [50], [51], and creationism [24]. ...
Article
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Research on conspiracy theories has long debated about the definition of conspiracy theories, and especially the demarcation between real conspiracies (i.e., that were proven to have occurred) and conspiracy theories (which are at best hypothetical). The existence of real conspiracies is often invoked as an argument to consider some conspiracy theories as plausible or even likely. Here, we argue on the contrary that conspiracy theories are basically "unhealthy" on statistical, epistemological and psychological – hence, rational — grounds. We propose a distinction between the numerous "unhealthy" conspiracy theories, based on errant data (i.e., unaccounted details of the official version), and the rare conspiracy inquiries, based on positive evidence (i.e., confessions, official verified documents, etc.).
... Besides motivation, some studies clearly point at cognitive mechanisms, which would also explain the success of conspiracy theories. Proportion bias (big effects have large causes; Leman & Cinnirella, 2007;McCauley & Jacques, 1979;Van Prooijen & Van Dijk, 2014), intentionality bias (Brotherton & French, 2015;Imhoff & Bruder, 2014;Douglas et al., 2015;Van der Tempel & Alcock, 2015;Wagner-Egger et al., 2018), and conjunction fallacy (Brotherton & French, 2014;Dagnall et al., 2017;Drinkwater et al., 2018;Moulding et al., 2016) have been related to beliefs in conspiracy theories. Related to these cognitive biases, conspiracist ideation has been observed to be strongly correlated with irrational beliefs, such as paranormal, superstitious, and pseudoscientific beliefs (Brotherton et al. 2013;Brotherton & French, 2014;Bruder et al. 2013;Wagner-Egger & Bangerter, 2007;Wagner-Egger et al., 2018). ...
... Proportion bias (big effects have large causes; Leman & Cinnirella, 2007;McCauley & Jacques, 1979;Van Prooijen & Van Dijk, 2014), intentionality bias (Brotherton & French, 2015;Imhoff & Bruder, 2014;Douglas et al., 2015;Van der Tempel & Alcock, 2015;Wagner-Egger et al., 2018), and conjunction fallacy (Brotherton & French, 2014;Dagnall et al., 2017;Drinkwater et al., 2018;Moulding et al., 2016) have been related to beliefs in conspiracy theories. Related to these cognitive biases, conspiracist ideation has been observed to be strongly correlated with irrational beliefs, such as paranormal, superstitious, and pseudoscientific beliefs (Brotherton et al. 2013;Brotherton & French, 2014;Bruder et al. 2013;Wagner-Egger & Bangerter, 2007;Wagner-Egger et al., 2018). Some personality traits have also been found to be associated with conspiracist ideation, such as paranoia and schizotypy (Brotherton et al., 2013;Brotherton & Eser, 2015;Bruder et al., 2013;Van der Tempel & Alcock, 2015;Wagner-Egger & Bangerter, 2007). ...
... Part of that relationship can be explained by the fact that lower education levels are linked with a more intuitive (vs. analytical) cognitive style (van Prooijen, 2017), which in turn favors adherence to conspiracy theories (e.g., Brotherton & French, 2014;Douglas et al. 2015;Swami et al., 2014;Wagner-Egger et al., 2018). Moreover, social status can affect social needs in a way that further fuel conspiracy beliefs. ...
Article
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The aim of this research is to identify what social and psychological variables may attract people to a social protest movement, namely the Yellow Vests (YVs) in France, which originated in October 2018. This analysis, albeit correlational, may nevertheless give important hints to identify in an exploratory way what causal factors could lead people (a) to become a sympathizer of the movement and (b) to become a member of that movement, and what psychosocial consequences would derive from (a) and (b). Notably, the role of conspiracy beliefs and anomie will be scrutinized because of their role in fostering non-normative political violence. In this purpose, we analyzed the results of a poll conducted on a representative sample of the French population (N = 1760). This survey explored a range of respondents' attitudes towards social issues and towards the YVs movement. Our analyses showed that adherence to the YVs movement is mainly caused by socioeconomic factors (such as educational level, economic capital) and belonging to political extremes (far left and even more far right), relying on and probably increasing distrust toward authorities and unconventional beliefs (paranormal and conspiracist). Ultimately, adherence to the movement seems triggered by the objective factor of dependency on a car and endorsement of conspiracist beliefs; whereas, simple sympathy is related to a less irrational form of accusation of authorities, low subjective economic capital, and pessimism toward the future. YVs also more often use social media and Youtube, but less often use media websites and newspapers as their first source of information.
... However, other scholars (Dieguez et al. 2015, Wagner-Egger et al. 2018) have failed to observe a link between pattern perception (in coin tosses) and endorsement of conspiracy theories. More research is needed to establish the robustness of the association between conspiracy belief and illusory pattern perception, and its boundary conditions. ...
... For instance, belief in conspiracy theories is related with anthropomorphism, that is, ascribing human intentions to non-human stimuli (e.g. assuming that the environment experiences emotions); moreover, it is related with ascribing agency to a series of moving geometric figures on a computer screen (Imhoff, Bruder 2014;Douglas et al. 2016; see also Wagner-Egger et al. 2018). ...
... For example, the hiker may presume that God has intentionally placed the rainbow there. Nonetheless, Wagner-Egger et al. (2018) have measured the tendency towards teleological thinking in large Swiss and French samples and found that it was correlated with endorsement of conspiracy theories, independently of other forms of agency perception, such as animism (i.e. attribution of consciousness to non-living entities). ...
... SRMR = 0.064; CFI = 0.951; RMSEA = 0.058 (90% CI: 0.047-0.069). The uniformly positive weights between CRT performance and endorsement of science again replicate earlier results (Shtulman & McCallum, 2014;Wagner-Egger, Delouvée, Gauvrit, & Dieguez, 2018) and confirm that the first-order correlations in Table 5 stand up to the inclusion of all worldview-related constructs. ...
... In the present data, this is echoed by the modest negative correlation with free market, although it was not reflected in the socio-political conservatism measure. The positive associations of the CRT with endorsement of all three scientific constructs, vaccination, CAM rejection, and evolution replicate similar previous findings (Shtulman & McCallum, 2014;Wagner-Egger et al., 2018). The association also coordinates well with recent findings that analytical thinking is associated with better differentiation between "fake news" and valid information (Pennycook & Rand, 2018). ...
Preprint
Some issues that have been settled by the scientific community, such as evolution, the effectiveness of vaccinations, and the role of CO2 emissions in climate change, continue to be rejected by segments of the public. This rejection is typically driven by people's worldviews, and to date most research has found that conservatives are uniformly more likely to reject scientific findings than liberals across a number of domains. We report a large (N>1,000) preregistered study that addresses two questions: First, can we find science denial on the left?Endorsement of pseudoscientific complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) has been anecdotally cited as being more consonant with liberals than conservatives. Against this claim, we found more support for CAM among conservatives than liberals. Second, we asked how liberals and conservatives resolve dilemmas in which an issue triggers two opposing facets of their worldviews. We probed attitudes on gender equality and the evolution of sex differences---two constructs that may create conflicts for liberals (who endorse evolution but also equality) and conservatives (who endorse gender differences but are sceptical of evolution). We find that many conservatives reject both gender equality and evolution of sex differences, and instead embrace ``naturally occurring'' gender differences. Many liberals, by contrast, reject evolved gender differences, as well as naturally occurring gender differences, while nonetheless strongly endorsing evolution.
... SRMR = 0.064; CFI = 0.951; RMSEA = 0.058 (90% CI: 0.047-0.069). The uniformly positive weights between CRT performance and endorsement of science again replicate earlier results (Shtulman & McCallum, 2014;Wagner-Egger, Delouvée, Gauvrit, & Dieguez, 2018) and confirm that the first-order correlations in Table 5 stand up to the inclusion of all worldview-related constructs. ...
... In the present data, this is echoed by the modest negative correlation with free market, although it was not reflected in the socio-political conservatism measure. The positive associations of the CRT with endorsement of all three scientific constructs, vaccination, CAM rejection, and evolution replicate similar previous findings (Shtulman & McCallum, 2014;Wagner-Egger et al., 2018). The association also coordinates well with recent findings that analytical thinking is associated with better differentiation between "fake news" and valid information (Pennycook & Rand, 2018). ...
Article
Full-text available
Some issues that have been settled by the scientific community, such as evolution, the effectiveness of vaccinations, and the role of CO2 emissions in climate change, continue to be rejected by segments of the public. This rejection is typically driven by people's worldviews, and to date most research has found that conservatives are uniformly more likely to reject scientific findings than liberals across a number of domains. We report a large (N>1,000) preregistered study that addresses two questions: First, can we find science denial on the left?Endorsement of pseudoscientific complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) has been anecdotally cited as being more consonant with liberals than conservatives. Against this claim, we found more support for CAM among conservatives than liberals. Second, we asked how liberals and conservatives resolve dilemmas in which an issue triggers two opposing facets of their worldviews. We probed attitudes on gender equality and the evolution of sex differences---two constructs that may create conflicts for liberals (who endorse evolution but also equality) and conservatives (who endorse gender differences but are sceptical of evolution). We find that many conservatives reject both gender equality and evolution of sex differences, and instead embrace ``naturally occurring'' gender differences. Many liberals, by contrast, reject evolved gender differences, as well as naturally occurring gender differences, while nonetheless strongly endorsing evolution.
... The publicness and the interest attraction of sacred architecture and the thought behind it-religions-seem to be, by itself, due to our cognitive mechanisms. Precisely, human beings' cognition tends to seek the explanation in teleology (Wagner-Egger et al. 2018;Barrett 2000;Boyer 2006). When initially establishing those architectures, the analytical view was only within a specific community; the teleological bias must have been stronger than now, where they are admired to a certain degree generally. ...
... Therefore, it is natural to consider the shrines as the private spaces of the spirits. Also, considering that our cognitions tend to seek the reasons in the sublime agencies (Wagner-Egger et al. 2018) when facing unsolvable difficulties, one way to treat the agents causing them is to take them as untouchables. On the other hand, the cathedrals spot the lights on the divines by introducing the natural light into the interior spaces. ...
Article
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In this paper, we suggest that architectures, especially sacred ones, play a significant role to shape cognition. Therefore, cognition is the result of the relationships between the subjects and their surroundings. By sharing the same environment and the relationships with it, the members of a community would weave "common-sense", as a common attitude towards what they define as the "reality". This shared set of values, methods, and attitudes shapes all kinds of cultural artifacts, like language and performative actions. The effect of natural languages on cognition has been intensively studied by philosophers, linguists, and other cognitive scientists; however, the role of thinking architectures seems underrepresented by them. Although the design of the living spaces greatly contributes to the nurtural formation of our cognition, it has been historically underestimated or neglected.
... Occasionally, development is associated with some variety of finalism or teleology: changes have a direction or even a purpose (Rosenblueth et al., 1943). This idea about the direction that the changes follow, although criticized in biology and other sciences (Wagner-Egger et al., 2018), today takes on a new meaning for cybernetics and artificial intelligence, domains in which artificial systems evolve and self-generate according to a set of goals defined from their initial construction (Contreras-Koterbay, 2019; Kamath & Liu, 2021). On the contrary, there are conceptions of development that do not appeal to a finalism, but to a certain efficiency, as in Darwin's theory of evolution (1859). ...
Chapter
The notion of “human development” is used polysemically in everyday language, it is present in popular media, political discourse, and several different branches of the sciences, and these iterations often contain ambiguities that are the result of non-specific notion of “development”. In very broad terms, “development” usually refers to the progressive series of changes in a behavior, a function or a structure throughout the life of a person, an organism or a society. Within this series of changes, “the possible” is often characterized as the constantly evolving spectrum of future scenarios, usually in the form of an unachieved but prefigured stage or phase, or as the opening toward essentially unpredictable transformations. In any case, it is possible to recognize in this diversity a series of common, although generally diffuse, ideas: change over time, evolution, growth, transformation, increase of certain magnitudes, and the passage from a potential and latent state to a current and expressed one. When the notion of development refers explicitly to the human, it can suggest changes in phenomena as wide-ranging as those concerning the biological body, and the mind of the individual to the political and economic macro-processes that take place in large societies. However, the notion of “human development” is most often used as a syncretic category, bringing together in a holistic way all these biological, psychological, or social dimensions. In these cases, it is often confused with some form of evolution, both in its teleological versions or in those that do not recognize a pre-designed directionality, even if they attempt to explain or describe changes over time. These different conceptions of human development are always supported by a corpus of metatheoretical assumptions. In particular, those commitments that refer to the recognized entities, the nature of changes, and the reasons for their occurrence.
... Marchlewska, Cichocka, and Kossowska discovered that people who are predisposed to belief in conspiracy theories like QAnon might have a greater need to find an explanation for random occurrences (Marchlewska et al., 2018), while Lantian et al. found they may also feel a need to be seen as unique (Lantian, Muller, Nurra, & Douglas, 2017). Conspiracy theorists are also more likely to have a cognitive bias called hypersensitive agency detection (Douglas et al., 2016) or teleologic thinking, whereby events are overattributed to hidden forces, purposes, and motives (Leman & Cinnirella, 2013;Wagner-Egger et al., 2018). One socio-psychological mechanism that may be a factor is the tendency to project moral proclivities onto strangers, where we believe others would do as we would, even those we think are involved in nefarious conspiracies (Douglas & Sutton, 2011). ...
Article
Librarians empower learners to become discerning citizens through a set of diverse skills and literacies. To cultivate critical thinkers, librarians continue to build innovative practices, even as technology rapidly evolves. However, the pervasiveness of misinformation and disinformation, most recently seen in the conspiratorial worldviews of QAnon, challenges librarians to center critical thinking in their information literacy praxis. In this article, we provide a concise overview of QAnon and the problems that contemporary internet conspiracy theories like it pose. We offer an epistemological shift for information literacy, from heuristics to mindsets and behaviors, drawing on disciplines external to librarianship. Finally, we consider the role that emotions play in the promotion and spread of conspiracism. Equipping librarians with a better understanding of conspiracy thinking and the tools to counter it will in turn empower the next generation of critical thinkers. Read the article archived in the UNM Digital Repository: https://digitalrepository.unm.edu/ulls_fsp/174/
... Su sistema propagandístico se enfrascó en denunciar una conspiración de Occidente para humillar y derrotar a los árabes suníes (Lister, 2015). Es posible que esta vinculación se explique a partir del esquema de razonamiento que comparten ambos campos de creencia, tanto el conspiracionismo como el sobrenaturalismo incurrirían en pensamiento teleológico (Wagner-Egger, Delouvée, Gauvrit, & Dieguez, 2018), es decir, la atribución de intencionalidad y una causa final a eventos y entidades. ...
Article
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Resumen. En 1993 el biólogo Richard Dawkins publicó “Viruses of the Mind”, un texto en el que analizó las similitudes entre los virus biológicos e informáticos. Las definió como composiciones capaces de infectar un tipo de sistema determinado, copiarse a sí mismos y degradar el funcionamiento del huésped. Es a propósito de dichas características que Dawkins acuña la metáfora de virus mentales o ideas que infectan la mente de una persona. Originalmente identificó la fe como un virus mental. En este trabajo proponemos la existencia de otros virus mentales, los cuales están íntimamente vinculados. Para ello se definió qué es un virus mental, se analizaron sus características, se identificaron 5 tipos de virus mentales y se describió cómo se relacionan a partir de algunos ejemplos. El resultado mostró una retroalimentación y complementariedad entre los virus mentales descritos. Abstract. In 1993 the biologist Richard Dawkins published "Viruses of the Mind", a text in which he analyzed the similarities between biological and computer viruses. He defined them as compositions capable of infecting a certain type of system, copying themselves and degrading the functioning of the host. It is with regard to these characteristics that Dawkins coined the metaphor of mental viruses or ideas that infect the mind of a person. Originally he identified faith as a mental virus. In this work we propose the existence of other mental viruses, which are closely linked. For this, what is a mental virus was defined, its characteristics were analyzed, 5 types of mental virus were identified and the way in which they are related was described based on some examples. The result showed a feedback and complementarity between the mental viruses described.
... and promote better understanding of teleological reasoning. This understanding is important because teleological reasoning promotes numerous adaptive (e.g., Banerjee & Bloom, 2014;Bering, 2002Bering, , 2003Casler & Kelemen, 2005;Csibra & Gergely, 2007;Hernik & Csibra, 2015;Kray et al., 2010;Park & Folkman, 1997;Perner & Esken, 2015) and maladaptive (e.g., Barnes et al., 2017;Brotherton & French, 2015;Jolley & Douglas, 2014;Kelemen, 2012;Lewandowsky et al., 2015;Wagner-Egger et al., 2018;Young, 2020) social consequences. 1 A local landslide caused a natural, ultimately temporary, dam of sediment to cross the Columbia River some centuries ago. ...
Article
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Humans default to functions and purposes when asked to explain the existence of mysterious phenomena. Our penchant for teleological reasoning is associated with good outcomes such as finding meaning in misfortune, but also with bad outcomes such as dangerous conspiracy theories and misunderstood scientific ideas, both of which pose important social and health problems. Psychological research into the teleological default has long alluded to Daniel Dennett's intentional systems theory but has not fully engaged with the three intellectual stances at its core (intentional, design, physical). This article distinguishes the intentional stance from the design stance, which untangles some of the present knots in theories of teleology, accounts for diverse forms of teleology, and enhances predictions of when teleological reasoning is more likely to occur. This article reviews the evidence for a teleological default in light of Dennett’s intentional systems theory, proposes a process model, and clarifies current theoretical debates, ultimately suggesting that individuals rationally and often thoughtfully use teleological reasoning in relation to both cognitive and social psychological factors. Implications for theory and future research are discussed.
... The Republican leader, President Trump, often hints at the validity of conspiracies, promotes them or invents them, from inauguration crowd sizes to now the deadliness of Covid-19 and curing it by ingesting disinfectant (Uscinski 2020, 111-19). And third, many evangelicals believe that evil is ubiquitous and always plotting in grand orchestrated ways toward a teleological finale (Wagner-Egger et al. 2018). ...
Article
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The uncertainties and scale of the Covid-19 pandemic has mobilised global anxieties and insecurities, and many cultural groups have conjuncturally embedded conspiracy theories within millennial and apocalyptic thought to explain and find meaning in the pandemic. The apocalypse lends itself well to conspiratorial thinking because conceptually it is flexible enough to reflect any crisis. To this end, the global development of Covid-19 conspiracism is what the authors term ‘contagious conspiracism’ which is defined as viral global cultural conspiracism. The paper explores how millennialist responses to Covid-19 in various media outlets transcend academic categories of analysis and cultural boundaries between, say, religious and secular, far-right and radical left. First explored is how the crisis became embedded in established (mainly American) contemporary millennial beliefs and prophecies through selected far-right, evangelical and radical left narratives. Second, it is shown how these theories have been ‘improvised’ to include 5 G and also travelled to Europe and taken on geographical significance in Belfast and Berlin. Third, the authors illustrate the shared ingredients, motivations, and semiotics across apocalyptic conspiratorial Covid-19 narratives, all of which resonate with concerns about power, specifically emergent surveillance technologies, governmental abuse of power, and neoliberal capital, with divergent truths about who is blame from 5 G/vaccine theories to corporate technocapitalism. The paper concludes that these shared discourses across apocalyptic and conspiratorial Covid-19 narratives mean many of us are conspiracists and/or conspiracy theorists at some level and is therefore both revealing of the similarities and has the potential to create democratic constituencies.
... En este recuento repleto de pensamiento mágico y pseudocientífico, no podían quedar fuera las teorías conspirativas. De acuerdo a algunos estudios, los seguidores de las teorías conspirativas comparten no solo el razonamiento teleológico presente en los creacionistas (Wagner-Egger, Delouvée, Gauvrit, & Dieguez, 2018), sino que poseerían ciertas características como la desconfianza y la adhesión a ideologías excéntricas (Hart & Graether, 2018). ...
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Resumen: La reciente aparición del SARS-CoV-2, causante del covid-2019, ha afectado al mundo entero. Diversas estrategias políticas y sanitarias han sido emprendidas para contenerlo. Como era de esperarse, los defensores de diversas pseudociencias han aprovechado la ocasión para pronunciarse y promocionar sus falsos tratamientos. En este artículo revisaremos algunas actitudes anticiencia, lo cual incluye pseudoterapias, teorías de conspiración, soluciones religiosas y la actitud negacionista de políticos populistas y nacionalistas durante esta crisis. Palabras clave: Ciencia, Pseudociencia, Nacionalismo, Pandemia, coronavirus, teorías de conspiración.
... Research indicates a high prevalence of CTs across both Western and non-Western countries (van Prooijen & van Vugt, 2018). Far from being innocuous, CTs can have negative consequences such as a reduced willingness to vaccinate children (Jolley & Douglas, 2014a), to take action to mitigate climate change (Jolley & Douglas, 2014b), to endorse unwarranted beliefs such as creationism (Wagner-Egger, Delouvée, Gauvrit & Dieguez, 2018), and may even increase discrimination toward stigmatized groups (Jolley, Meleady & Douglas, in press). Psychological research has extensively investigated individual differences, motivational and emotional states as well as contextual factors associated with belief in CTs (van Prooijen & Douglas, 2018). ...
Article
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Research suggests that belief in conspiracy theories (CT) stems from basic psychological mechanisms and is linked to other belief systems (e.g. religious beliefs). While previous research has extensively examined individual and contextual variables associated with CT beliefs, it has not yet investigated the role of culture. In the current research, we tested, based on a situated cultural cognition perspective, the extent to which culture predicts CT beliefs. Using Hofstede's model of cultural values, three nation-level analyses of data from 25, 19 and 18 countries using different measures of CT beliefs (Study 1, N = 5,323; Study 2a, N = 12,255; Study 2b, N = 30,994) revealed positive associations between Masculinity, Collectivism and CT beliefs. A cross-sectional study among US citizens (Study 3, N = 350), using individual-level measures of Hofstede's values, replicated these findings. A meta-analysis of correlations across studies corroborated the presence of positive links between CT beliefs, Collectivism, r = .31, 95%CI = [.15; .47] and Masculinity, , r = .39, 95%CI = [.18; .59]. Our results suggest that in addition to individual-differences and contextual variables, cultural factors also play an important role in shaping CT beliefs.
... Research indicates a high prevalence of CTs across both Western and non-Western countries (van Prooijen & van Vugt, 2018). Far from being innocuous, CTs can have negative consequences such as a reduced willingness to vaccinate children (Jolley & Douglas, 2014a), to take action to mitigate climate change (Jolley & Douglas, 2014b), to endorse unwarranted beliefs such as creationism (Wagner-Egger, Delouvée, Gauvrit & Dieguez, 2018), and may even increase discrimination toward stigmatized groups (Jolley, Meleady & Douglas, in press). Psychological research has extensively investigated individual differences, motivational and emotional states as well as contextual factors associated with belief in CTs (van Prooijen & Douglas, 2018). ...
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Research suggests that belief in conspiracy theories (CT) stems from basic psychological mechanisms and is linked to other belief systems (e.g. religious beliefs). While previous research has extensively examined individual and contextual variables associated with CT beliefs, it has not yet investigated the role of culture. In the current research, we tested, based on a situated cultural cognition perspective, the extent to which culture predicts CT beliefs. Using Hofstede's model of cultural values, three nation-level analyses of data from 25, 19 and 18 countries using different measures of CT beliefs (Study 1, N = 5,323; Study 2a, N = 12,255; Study 2b, N = 30,994) revealed positive associations between Masculinity, Collectivism and CT beliefs. A cross-sectional study among US citizens (Study 3, N = 350), using individual-level measures of Hofstede's values, replicated these findings. A meta-analysis of correlations across studies corroborated the presence of positive links between CT beliefs, Collectivism, r = .31, 95%CI = [.15; .47] and Masculinity, , r = .39, 95%CI = [.18; .59]. Our results suggest that in addition to individual-differences and contextual variables, cultural factors also play an important role in shaping CT beliefs.
... Cognitive scientists and developmental psychologists studying religion have argued that one of the reasons that religious beliefs are so ubiquitous is that they are supported by a number of intuitive (System 1) processes (e.g., Atran & Norenzayan, 2004;Bloom, 2007). For example, people intuitively see agency and purpose in natural processes (Kelemen, 2004;Wagner-Egger, Delouvée, Gauvrit, & Dieguez, 2018), as well as meaningful patterns in randomly generated data (Van Prooijen, Douglas, & De Inocencio, 2018). People also intuitively think of minds as separate from bodies, and infer minds in objects (e.g., Bloom, 2007). ...
Article
Analytic thinking has been put forth as one of the processes through which people may become atheists. According to this view, people who are more (vs. less) analytically inclined should be more likely to reject the existence of deities because they rely less on the various intuitive cognitive processes that support supernatural beliefs. Consistent with this “analytic atheism” hypothesis, studies have found a negative association between analytic thinking and religious belief. In the present article we expand on this literature and argue that analytic thinking should be more strongly associated with religious disbelief when coupled with motivation to be epistemically rational. Consistent with this hypothesis, we show that the association between analytic thinking and weaker religious faith (Study 1), as well as between analytic thinking and disbelief (vs. belief) in God, and related supernatural phenomena (Study 2–3) is stronger among people who ascribe more (vs. less) value to epistemic rationality.
... Van Prooijen, Douglas, and De Inocencio (2018) found that perceiving patterns in random coin toss outcomes and in chaotic abstract paintings, as well as a general tendency to believe that world events do not occur through coincidence, are related with conspiracy beliefs. Furthermore, Wagner-Egger, Delouvée, Dieguez, and Gauvrit (2018) found that conspiracy beliefs are related with teleological thinking, defined as "the attribution of purpose and a final cause to natural events and entities" (p. R867). ...
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People endorse conspiracy theories particularly when they experience existential threat, that is, feelings of anxiety or uncertainty often because of distressing societal events. At the same time, such feelings also often lead people to support groups frequently implicated in conspiracy theories (e.g., the government). The present contribution aims to resolve this paradox by proposing an Existential Threat Model of Conspiracy Theories, which stipulates under what conditions existential threat does versus does not stimulate conspiracy theories. The model specifically illuminates that feelings of existential threat increase epistemic sense-making processes, which in turn stimulate conspiracy theories only when antagonistic outgroups are salient. Moreover, once formed conspiracy theories are not functional to reduce feelings of existential threat; instead, conspiracy theories can be a source of existential threat in itself, stimulating further conspiracy theorizing and contributing to a generalized conspiracist mindset. In the discussion, I discuss implications of the model, and illuminate how one may base interventions on the model to breaks this cyclical process and reduce conspiracy beliefs.
... It is similar to the animist thought that children share in their search for meaning until, in the transition to adulthood, they get rid of it in favor of a scientific reasoning. But teleological or animistic thinking persists in some way even in adults as cognitive bias, as a prejudice at the basis of naive intuitions, and this persistence encourages typical phenomena of science denialism such as conspiracy and creationism (Wagner-Egger et al., 2018). ...
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Today, science communication seems to be in excellent condition. It has become a profession with tens of thousands of people around the world working in the communication offices of research institutions, in universities’ press and PR offices, as science journalists for traditional and online media, television, YouTube and much more. It is a discipline that has its own scientific journals, professional associations, annual conferences around the world, master’s degrees, dedicated research centers. Similarly, society is enthusiastic about science. Great discoveries conquer the front pages of newspapers and capture people’s imagination, popular science books sell millions of copies, the Facebook pages of science enthusiasts boast millions of followers, STEM students at the university have never been so numerous. Despite all of this, science seems to be constantly forced onto the barricades. Periodically, phenomena of distrust of science emerge and spread, driving many citizens to question issues on which the scientific community is unanimously in agreement: from GMOs to the validity of vaccines, from climate change to the landing of Man on the Moon. At the same time, science enthusiasts bend processes and outputs of the scientific endeavor to adapt them to their own preconceptions and webs of beliefs, producing and spreading throughout the world phenomena on the borderline between science and pseudoscience: this is the case of quantum mysticism, i.e. the idea that quantum mechanics would reveal ancient knowledge about the possibility of manipulating reality, or would confirm the existence of the soul, or would provide us with new ways to heal diseases. Communities of science amateurs who do not believe in “mainstream” or “official” science produce alternative and odd theories, justified with the fact that official science is still unable to explain many phenomena of reality. These people are definitely interested in science, but they want to do it and interpret it in their own way and they believe that science is too important a matter to be left to scientists. Traditional approaches to this problem blame the modes of public understanding of science, or “science popularization”. It would be responsible for an excessive simplification of the phenomena, processes, mechanisms of the scientific endeavor, whose consequence would be the growth of misconceptions. Consequently, by improving science communication in quantity and quality, misconceptions would be reduced, and we would experiment a decrease in pseudoscientific beliefs and levels of distrust of science. This traditional view considers science communication as a sort of continuation of science education in adulthood: its aim would be just the increase of scientific literacy’s levels. But popularization is not (exclusively) concerned with this. It plays a decisive role in informing society of what is happening in the world’s scientific community, in terms not only of new discoveries, but also about the development of new theories, conjectures, hypotheses that could lead to discoveries and practical applications in the future. In carrying out this task, science popularization is not so much interested in literacy as in the diffusion of news, and in this sense it follows the same mechanisms of mass communication, that is, selecting the news and the concepts most capable of generating engagement and hitting the imagination of the public, in order to “sell” the news. Contemporary theoretical physics is undoubtedly the area most affected by the problem of the so-called “medialization” of science. Dealing with great issues that in the past were matters of organized religions and founding myths, such as the origin and destiny of the universe, the nature of space-time, the role of human consciousness in the fabric of reality, the ultimate composition of matter, contemporary theoretical physics attracts the imagination of the general public and colonizes the spaces of scientific popularization in bookstores, popular science magazines, television. At the same time, since it is based on a complex mathematical formalism and on counter-intuitive concepts, and not being able to be replicated on an experimental level except in rare cases in school laboratories or science festivals (it is in fact the big science, that requires experiments for billions of dollars with thousands of people involved), contemporary theoretical physics is also the field of science most affected by misconceptions and most able to generate pseudoscientific conceptions. Therefore, in this dissertation I have chosen to focus precisely on contemporary theoretical physics, in order to investigate the reasons and processes that lead to generate misconceptions and pseudoscientific conceptions in the public. To do this, I have tried to identify new approaches and methodologies that can account for the complexity of the mechanisms that occur in the phase of public reception of new scientific ideas. Facing with scientific literacy indices showing improvements in all Western countries, it is naive to continue to believe that pseudoscientific conceptions can be “defeated” by simply increasing science communication programs. The simplistic optimism of the traditional models of popularization has had its day, and it is necessary to find new tools that take into account, first of all, the fact that the reception of ideas always takes place in a non-neutral, but culturally and socially situated environment. This is not a new idea: social constructivism has long since affirmed the notion of “situated knowledge”, rejecting the alleged rationalist objectivity of modern science. In this work, however, I do not intend to embrace a constructivist conception of science, but rather to take up the idea of “situated knowledge” to unveil the mechanisms of reception and transposition of scientific ideas into popular culture. The study of the cultural determinants of ideas’ reception is in fact the starting point for a necessary deconstruction of the traditional vision of science popularization, according to which a concept, once it has been translated into a language understandable to all, can only be received in the same way as it was conceived by the one who communicates it. Conversely, the processes of coding and decoding of a concept take place within cultural contexts and shared webs of beliefs: ignoring them means condemning any science communication project to failure. In my search for methodologies capable of restoring the complexity of cultural transposition processes, I turned to the history of ideas. In fact, I found in the history of ideas—which more than a discipline is actually a metadiscipline—a series of useful tools to study the way the meanings of a concept are transformed during the processes of reception within different cultural contexts and at different times. The emphasis placed by the history of ideas on the genealogical reconstruction of the process of meaning’s transformation all through the products of popular culture allows to shed light on a field of study almost ignored: the popular scientific imagery. Analyzing the popular scientific imagery, I choose to focus my attention on three case studies. The first, which I called “metaphysics of the hidden reality”, analyzes the concept that our universe is a computer-based simulation. After reconstructing the two main contemporary narratives of this conception (Nick Bostrom’s simulation argument and David Icke’s Matrix theory), I tried to trace its origins in popular culture, starting with some science fiction works, and then in the New Age counterculture of the 1970s. The study also demonstrates the ability of popular imagery to influence the scientific community, orienting research projects and philosophical positions that have now become mainstream in contemporary theoretical physics. The second case study, that I called “Re-enchanted science”, analyses the common misconceptions in popular culture regarding the anthropic principle and the interpretations of quantum mechanics that attribute a relevant role to the observer. These two ideas emerged in the field of science have provided a solid background to pseudoscientific theories about the immortality of the soul and the ability of the human brain to transform reality. In the third and final study I focused on a more conventional case, that of an authentic pseudoscientific theory: the electric universe. In this case, I tried to understand why people with even a certain level of scientific background end up questioning established scientific theories such as general relativity or the standard cosmological model. Once again, the answer must be found in the socio-cultural contexts of reception. In the last part of my thesis, I try to apply the “lessons learned” to the traditional concept of “pseudoscience”, in order to elaborate a new theoretical framework through which to understand the dynamics that emerged in the three case studies. The aim is to offer practical suggestions to those involved in developing science communication programs, with the aim of ensuring a better engagement with those groups of science enthusiasts who share misconceptions and pseudoscientific conceptions. Since the peculiar nature of contemporary theoretical physics (in particular as a consequence of its gradual shift towards post-empirical physics) and the medialization of science are structural and characterizing elements, it is necessary to look for new methods to account for the cross-fertilization processes between the production of scientific knowledge and mass communication. The notion of “hyper-real science” that I propose in my conclusions, borrowed from Jean Baudrillard’s notion of hyper-reality, is along these lines, and incorporates within it the traditional notion of pseudoscience. In my opinion, this concept can prove very useful for the understanding of the mutual interactions between the scientific community and the popular culture in the formation of new ideas, conjectures, theories capable of advancing the scientific endeavor.
... Both gambling fallacies and theistic beliefs involve non-naturalistic reasoning to explain material events (gambling: Clark 2010; Ejova and Ohtsuka 2019; Kim and McGill 2011;Riva et al. 2015;Se'vigny and Ladouceur 2003;religious beliefs: Heywood and Bering 2014;Ma-Kellams 2015;Wagner-Egger et al. 2018). This type of reasoning may be explained by a preference for intuitive rather than analytical thinking. ...
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A number of studies have explored the relationship between religious beliefs and gambling (including gambling fallacies and gambling harm) but report seemingly contradictory findings. While some studies have found religious belief to be positively associated with gambling fallacies, others have found it to be a protective factor from gambling harms. One explanation for these differing effects is that gambling fallacies and metaphysical religious belief share properties of supernatural and magical thinking. Nevertheless, social support and moral strictures associated with religion might help protect against an unhealthy engagement with gambling. Using a multidimensional measure of religiosity, we hypothesised that only the supernatural facet of religious adherence would present a risk for gambling fallacies. We analysed two archival data sources collected in Canada (Quinte Longitudinal Study: N = 4121, Mage = 46, SDage = 14, Female = 54%; Leisure, Lifestyle and Lifecycle Project: N = 1372, Mage = 37, SDage = 17, Female = 56%). Using the Rohrbaugh–Jessor Religiosity Scale, we confirmed that the supernatural theistic domain of religion was a positive risk factor for gambling fallacies. However, participation in ritual (behavioural) aspects, such as churchgoing, was negatively associated with risk, and no effect was observed for the consequential (moral) domain. We conclude that multidimensional aspects in religious measures may account for conflicting prior findings.
... As for COVID-19, many blame the mixed messages and lack of clear communication from the top leadership ensues confusion in public, subsequently paving the way for conspiracy theories to grow (Aamir, 2020;Khattak, 2020;Saleem, 2020). Such findings fall in line with those of a previous research beyond Pakistan that shows a quasi-religious mentality (Wagner-Egger et al., 2018), lack of a clear official explanation (Leman & Cinnirella, 2013) and partisan cues (Duran et al., 2017) as some of the factors that prompt people to believe in conspiracy theories. ...
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The COVID-19 pandemic signifies not only a global health crisis but has also proven to be an infodemic characterised by many conspiracy theories. Prior research informs us that belief in health-related conspiracies can harm efforts to curtail the spread of a virus. Therefore, as the global efforts of mass inoculation are underway, it is crucial to understand which factors shape tendencies to believe in conspiracy theories. In the current study, we explore how Pakistani adults' perceived risk of COVID-19, sense of national identity, and trust in traditional and social media sources, are associated with their belief in conspiracy theories related to the pandemic. The data for this study come from an online survey of 501 adults ages 18-49 conducted in April and May 2020 in Pakistan. Our results show that a perception of risk makes it less likely for the participants to believe in conspiracy theories even when taking into account key demographic factors. Furthermore, trust in social media has a positive association with belief in conspiracy theories, whereas trust in traditional media and people's sense of national identity are not associated with conspiracy beliefs. This study offers important scholarly and policy implications for navigating major global health issues, in Pakistan and other similarly situated countries.
... There has been a considerable amount of research focusing on the psychological factors associated with belief in conspiracy theories. Cognitive and social psychologists have shown, for example, that conspiratorial beliefs are related to a variety of cognitive biases (e.g., Brotherton and French, 2014;Wagner-Egger, Delouvée, Gauvrit, et al., 2018), to intuitive (v. analytical) thinking style (e.g., Swami, Voracek, Stieger, et al., 2014), and to paranormal beliefs (e.g., Bruder, Haffke, Neave, et al., 2013). ...
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This exploratory study aims at identifying macro-social factors associated with the international variance of belief in conspiracy theories. We computed a Conspiracy Index for 22 Western and non-Western countries based on the results of an online survey on conspiratorial beliefs. Stepwise regression analyses show that more than 70% of the international variance of this Conspiracy Index is explained by the following three national variables: the level of democracy, the unemployment rate, and the perceived level of public sector corruption. Conspiracy theories thus appear to be more commonly endorsed in countries where people cannot take an active part in the political life of their country (low level of democracy), where they may feel socially threatened (high unemployment rate), and where institutions and authorities are perceived as untrustworthy (high perception of public sector corruption).
... Common psychological underpinnings on the individual differences level include higher scores on schizotypal traits (Barron et al. 2014), narcissism (Cichocka, Marchlewska, and Golec de Zavala 2016), Machiavellianism (Douglas and Sutton 2011), and psychopathy (March and Springer 2019). At the cognitive level, predictors include overidentification of agency and patterns (van Prooijen, Douglas, and De Inocencio 2018;Douglas et al. 2016), anthropomorphism (Brotherton and French 2015), and teleological thinking (Wagner-Egger et al. 2018). They are further associated with reliance on intuition rather than rational inquiry to get facts , with increased tolerance for incoherence, logical inconsistency and self-contradictions (Lewandowsky, Cook, and Lloyd 2018), and with less concern with the factual bases for claims, and with thinking that facts are political constructions (Garrett and Weeks 2017). ...
Article
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Crises are associated with search for meaning and security. In recent years, they have also been associated with increased attention to conspiracy theories. Such theories about COVID-19 have been many. We looked at several COVID-specific conspiracy theories and their relation to a number of other measures, including religiosity in a highly educated Norwegian convenience sample (N = 1225). Conspiracy mentality, lack of trust, and religiosity were directly associated with conspiracy beliefs about COVID-19, whereas self-reported stress and negative emotions related to the pandemic had only small, indirect effects. Unlike previous research, we found no effect of gender or age.
... Des expériences particulièrement intéressantes allant dans ce sens montrent que les individus ayant un style de pensée intuitif (intuitive thinking style) sont en moyenne davantage conspirationnistes que les personnes au style de pensée plus analytique (analytic thinking style ; p. ex., Swami, Voracek, Stieger, Tran & Furnham, 2014). Parallèlement, il a également été établi qu'une sensibilité plus marquée que la moyenne à certains biais cognitifs affectant chroniquement le raisonnement humain, comme le biais d'intentionnalité ou le biais téléologique, va de pair avec une inclination accrue au conspirationnisme (voir, respectivement, Brotherton & French, 2015 ;Wagner-Egger, Delouvée, Gauvrit & Dieguez, 2018). ...
... This nuance can account for diverse findings and promote better understanding of teleological reasoning. This understanding is important because teleological reasoning promotes numerous adaptive social consequences (e.g., Banerjee & Bloom, 2014;Bering, 2002Bering, , 2003Casler & Kelemen, 2005;Csibra & Gergely, 2007;Hernik & Csibra, 2015;Kray et al., 2010;Park & Folkman, 1997;Perner & Esken, 2015) and maladaptive social consequences (e.g., Barnes et al., 2017;Brotherton & French, 2015;Jolley & Douglas, 2014;Kelemen, 2012;Lewandowsky et al., 2015;Wagner-Egger et al., 2018;Young, 2020). Psychological researchers have fairly described teleological reasoning as a "developmentally persistent cognitive default" (Kelemen et al., 2013(Kelemen et al., , p. 1075, but there might be more to the story. ...
Article
Humans default to functions and purposes when asked to explain the existence of mysterious phenomena. Our penchant for teleological reasoning is associated with good outcomes, such as finding meaning in misfortune, but also with bad outcomes, such as dangerous conspiracy theories and misunderstood scientific ideas, both of which pose important social and health problems. Psychological research into the teleological default has long alluded to Daniel Dennett’s intentional-systems theory but has not fully engaged with the three intellectual stances at its core (intentional, design, physical). This article distinguishes the intentional stance from the design stance, which untangles some of the present knots in theories of teleology, accounts for diverse forms of teleology, and enhances predictions of when teleological reasoning is more likely to occur. This article examines the evidence for a teleological default considering Dennett’s intentional-systems theory, proposes a process model, and clarifies current theoretical debates. It argues that people rationally and often thoughtfully use teleological reasoning in relation to both cognitive and social psychological factors. Implications for theory and future research are discussed.
... Hyperactive agency detection indeed is associated with conspiracy beliefs: Detecting agency in the classic Heider and Simmel footage predicts increased belief in conspiracy theories (Douglas et al., 2016). Moreover, conspiracy beliefs are associated with teleological thinking, that is, attributions of purpose and cause to natural events and entities (Wagner-Egger et al., 2018). ...
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Conspiracy theories are widespread and have a profound impact on society. The present contribution proposes that conspiracy theories are explanatory narratives that necessarily contain justice judgments, as they include attributions of blame and accusations of unethical or criminal conduct. Conspiratorial narratives also are mental simulations, however, and may elicit genuine feelings of injustice also without evidence of actual malpractice. Indeed, conspiracy theories sometimes describe unfair events that are unlikely to have occurred, unethical authorities that might not actually exist, and so on. Here I propose two complementary processes that stimulate belief in evidence-free conspiracy theories: (1) Existential threats instigate biased mental processing and motivated reasoning, that jointly promote an alternative perception of reality; and (2) group allegiances shape how people perceive, interpret, and remember facts to highlight the immoral qualities of competing outgroups. Due to these processes, conspiracy theories elicit a set of distinct reactions such as poor health choices and rejection of science. Moreover, evidence-free conspiracy theories require interventions beyond traditional approaches to install justice principles, such as debunking falsehoods and reducing polarized intergroup distinctions. I conclude that the scientific study of conspiracy theories is part of, and has a unique place in, social justice research.
... Creationism and ET do not deal with the exact same questions, as creationism proposes an explanation to the origin of life, whereas the ET explains the changes in organisms through time, and both are epistemologically organized in different ways (Sepúlveda and Hani 2004). A main conflict between these two worldviews is directly related to the teleological aspect of creationism (Egger et al., 2018), where there is a "final purpose" underlying the natural processes, a fit mechanism for the belief that a higher power has created all living beings. For example, 4 in 10 Americans agree with the statement that God created humans "in their present form" at some point in the last 10,000 years. ...
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Evolutionary theory (ET) is the unifying theory of Life Sciences, but it is largely misunderstood and the target of dispute in many countries, mainly because of conflicts with religious beliefs. Brazil is a country with a culture that is deeply rooted belief in God. In this paper, we report a study in Brazil where we applied a 12-question questionnaire to understand the relationship among the major field of study and the self-declared religious and philosophical context on the knowledge of evolutionary theory by Brazilian freshmen. We answer the following questions: (1) Is there a difference in ET comprehension according to the major field of study? (2) Are religious and philosophical contexts related to the comprehension of ET? (3) Are major field of study and religious/philosophical contexts together related to the comprehension of ET by Brazilian freshmen? A total of 153 freshmen students answered our questionnaire. Students from the Biological Sciences fared better than students from most other major field of study but were equal to students of Humanities. The philosophical perception of life had a major correlation with their knowledge about evolution, with self-declared atheists and agnostics showing better performance than religious students. There were no clear trends in the interaction of major field of study and philosophy of life. We discuss these results in the light of the rising ideological activism in Brazilian society since philosophy of life was the main driver of evolutionary theory perception. We highlight the importance of scientists and teachers in reassuring the role of science and scientific knowledge in modern societies. Supplementary information: The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1007/s11191-021-00286-z.
... This alternative (my opponent is either incompetent or a knave) sometimes leads climate science denialists to harass researchers critical of their views (Lewandowsky, 2019). Less dramatically, one of us debated about and ran endless supplemental statistical analyses during 1 week in an effort to argue with a denialist who was strenuously looking for errors in our data analysis (Wagner-Egger et al., 2018). ...
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Climate change is a most serious challenge. Committing the needed resources requires that a clear majority of citizens approves the appropriate policies, since committing resources necessarily involve a trade-off with other expenses. However, there are distinct groups of people who remain in denial about the realities of climatic change. This chapter presents a range of psychological and social phenomena that together explain the phenomena that lead to denial.
... On the other, this e-participation can increase consensus around conspiracy theories, fake news and a large array of misinformation. According to some studies, a positive correlation exists between conspiracy theory believers and authoritarianism (Bruder et al., 2013), conservatives (Cox & Halpin, 2020;Wagner-Egger et al., 2018), and Trumpers (Marchal et al., 2018). Current conspiracies generally serve the cause of rampant rightwing populism (Bergmann, 2018). ...
Chapter
In this final chapter, at first, we identify populism as a social phenomenon embedding precariousness and economic anxiety, which are both the result of a structural economic shift—magnified by globalization. Closely related to that issue, the perception of an uncontrolled migration process fuels the sense of restlessness. Finally, the chapter provides an empirical as well as theoretical overview of the role played by populist narratives and urban collective actions in the context of migrants’ presence. We consider how the proactive responses of residents in Rome have benefited the community and outlined a protocol for similar participation in other contexts, with emphasis on the importance of the “common good” as a new conceptual tool in regenerating local communities.
... We also found vocabulary related to critical thinkingwhich has also been found to be negatively associated with GCBs (Lantian et al., 2021). In addition, participants regularly evoked the notion of cognitive biases, which is an important field of research on CTs (e.g., Brotherton & French, 2014;Douglas et al., 2015;Wagner-Egger et al., 2018). Also in line with the literature, participants evoked the notions of political extremism (see van Prooijen et al., 2015;Imhoff et al., 2022) and antisemitism (see Bilewicz et al., 2013;Kofta et al, 2020). ...
Preprint
Despite a growing literature on the topic, little is known about how individuals perceive the label “conspiracy theory”. In two studies, we compare lay social representations of conspiracy theories, and how these are influenced by individuals’ own conspiracy beliefs. In addition, we examine how these representations relate to how scholars define and explain CTs. In Study 1, we used lexicometric analysis to explore the vocabulary that French participants (n = 939) spontaneously associated with the notion of ‘conspiracy theory’ and the personal definitions they provided. The representation of participants scoring high on the generic conspiracist beliefs scale was centred on the content of conspiracy theories (e.g., “lies” or “government”). By contrast, the representation of participants scoring low on the conspiracist beliefs scale was centred on the believer (e.g., “paranoia” or “cognitive biases”). They proposed definitions of conspiracy theories centred on the function(s) conspiracy theories supposedly fulfil for the believer (e.g., simplify complex realities). To make sure that these results did not merely express participants’ endorsement or rejection of conspiracy theories, we carried out a second study. In Study 2 (n = 272), we found that the more participants endorsed generic conspiracist beliefs, the less they mobilised intra-individual causes (e.g., reasoning biases) to explain why some people believe in CTs that they did not endorse themselves. This research shows that people’s representations of conspiracy theories differ depending on their conspiracy beliefs.
Chapter
People sometimes hold irrational beliefs even when empirical evidence obviously debunks claims central to beliefs. This chapter reviews empirical studies exploring underlying psychological processes of holding empirically suspect beliefs with a particular focus on belief in pseudoscience. The author explains empirical findings from a dual process view of thinking. Recent studies show individuals with higher analytic tendency exhibit more ideologically polarized reasoning than those with lower analytical tendency. These results suggest a significance of motivated reasoning in order to fully understand the psychological mechanism of everyday beliefs. Future research suggestions emphasize remaining questions, such as a developmental time course of, a cultural diversity of, and evolutional origins and functions of the belief in pseudoscience.
Article
Conspiracy thinking can be viewed as a form of narrative comprehension. We routinely infer actors’ goals and plans when someone tells us a story. However, comprehenders extend this practice when considering real-world events, which are not orchestrated by a narrator. Comprehenders routinely favor information that is consistent with their perspective, but conspiracy thinkers likely do this to a greater extent, due to the low levels of cognitive reflection they exhibit. Comprehenders supplement incoming information with background knowledge. Conspiracy thinkers do this as well, but their knowledge base deviates from that of the mainstream, as a result of exposure to large amounts of misinformation.
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Scholarly efforts to understand conspiracy theories have grown significantly in recent years, and there is now a broad and interdisciplinary literature. In reviewing this body of work, we ask three specific questions. First, what factors are associated with conspiracy beliefs? Our review of the literature shows that conspiracy beliefs result from a range of psychological, political, and social factors. Next, how are conspiracy theories communicated? Here, we explain how conspiracy theories are shared among individuals and spread through traditional and social media platforms. Next, what are the societal risks and rewards associated with conspiracy theories? By focusing on politics and science, we argue that conspiracy theories do more harm than good. We conclude by suggesting several promising avenues for future research.
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Why individuals believe in conspiracy theories is both a theoretical and an applied present day problem. While recent research mostly focused on individual differences and motives, we know little about manipulated variables affecting conspiracism. Based on the truth effect literature consistently demonstrating that already seen and perceived as already seen statements are more likely to be judged as true than new ones, we hypothesized that repeated exposure to conspiracy theories could increase the likelihood to believe such theories. A repetition-induced conspiracism would contribute challenging truth ambiguity as a boundary condition of the effect. To provide an initial test of this hypothesis, we analyzed data from two surveys conducted in representative samples of the French population (IFOP, 2017, 2019). Participants indicated both their adherence and recognition judgement for 10 conspiracy statements in each survey, corresponding overall to 17 widespread conspiracy theories. We found a “truth effect” in each dataset, although with different magnitudes. Furthermore, the truth effect was positively associated to conspiracy mentality. These results suggest that the truth effect might be a mechanism by which individuals form beliefs in conspiracy theories, and add up to the recent reassessment of truth ambiguity as a boundary condition of the truth effect. In indicating a possible repetition-induced conspiracism, these analyses call for studies whose aim is to better estimate to what extent and in which conditions repeated exposure increases conspiracism.
Thesis
La prolifération rapide de fausses informations est une face obscure de la diffusion massive d’informations. Comprendre comment nous jugeons la vérité des informations que nous rencontrons s’avère crucial. L’exposition répétée aux informations augmente la tendance à les juger vraies. Cet effet de vérité est couramment expliqué par la familiarité, qui serait incorrectement attribuée à la vérité des informations en l’absence de recollection, soit le souvenir précis d’y avoir été exposé avant. Nous pointons des limites de cette hypothèse et proposons une alternative : l’hypothèse de correspondance duale, qui suppose que nous évaluons la vérité des informations à travers leur correspondance avec des contenus récupérés en mémoire. La récupération de ces contenus peut être basée sur la familiarité comme sur la recollection, et ce en particulier lorsque nous ne pouvons pas récupérer des indices de vérité. Dégrader la recollection devrait ainsi augmenter l’effet de vérité pour l’hypothèse de familiarité, mais le diminuer pour l’hypothèse de correspondance duale. Nous avons estimé les mérites relatifs des deux hypothèses en manipulant l’attention à l’encodage et le délai. Les deux hypothèses expliquent aussi bien certains résultats ; des résultats que nous pensions attendus sous les deux hypothèses n’ont pas été mis en évidence ; et l’hypothèse de correspondance duale rend mieux compte de certains résultats que l’hypothèse de familiarité, mais l’inverse est aussi le cas. Dans un volet plus appliqué de la thèse, nous suggérons que l’effet de vérité pourrait exister avec des théories du complot dans des réanalyses corrélationnelles de deux enquêtes à grande échelle. L’hypothèse de correspondance duale est une alternative pertinente à l’hypothèse de familiarité, mais la confrontation des deux hypothèses est à poursuivre pour mieux comprendre les processus de mémoire impliqués dans l’effet de vérité. Cet effet pourrait en outre être impliqué dans des phénomènes sociétaux comme le conspirationnisme, invitant à doter les études d’une plus grande validité externe.
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Critical thinking is of paramount importance in our society. People regularly assume that critical thinking is a way to reduce conspiracy belief, although the relationship between critical thinking and conspiracy belief has never been tested. We conducted two studies (Study 1, N = 86; Study 2, N = 252), in which we found that critical thinking ability—measured by an open-ended test emphasizing several areas of critical thinking ability in the context of argumentation—is negatively associated with belief in conspiracy theories. Additionally, we did not find a significant relationship between self-reported (subjective) critical thinking ability and conspiracy belief. Our results support the idea that conspiracy believers have less developed critical thinking ability and stimulate discussion about the possibility of reducing conspiracy beliefs via the development of critical thinking.
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Despite a growing literature on the topic, little is known about how individuals perceive the label “conspiracy theory”. In two studies, we compare social representations of conspiracy theories, and how these are influenced by individuals’ own conspiracy beliefs. In addition, we examine how these representations relate to how scholars define and explain conspiracy theories. In Study 1, we used lexicometric analysis to explore the vocabulary that French participants (n = 939) spontaneously associated with the notion of ‘conspiracy theory’ and the personal definitions they provided. The representation of participants scoring high on the generic conspiracist beliefs scale was centred on the content of conspiracy theories (e.g., “lies” or “government”). By contrast, the representation of participants scoring low on the conspiracist beliefs scale was centred on the believer (e.g., “paranoia” or “cognitive biases”). They proposed definitions of conspiracy theories centred on the function(s) conspiracy theories supposedly fulfil for the believer (e.g., simplify complex realities). To make sure that these results did not merely express participants’ endorsement or rejection of conspiracy theories, we carried out a second study. In Study 2 (n = 272), we found that the more participants endorsed generic conspiracist beliefs, the less they mobilised intra-individual causes (e.g., reasoning biases) to explain why some people believe in conspiracy theories that they did not endorse themselves. This research shows that people’s representations of conspiracy theories differ depending on their conspiracy beliefs.
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Although conspiracy theories are endorsed by about half the population and occasionally turn out to be true, they are more typically false beliefs that, by definition, have a paranoid theme. Consequently, psychological research to date has focused on determining whether there are traits that account for belief in conspiracy theories (BCT) within a deficit model. Alternatively, a two-component, socio-epistemic model of BCT is proposed that seeks to account for the ubiquity of conspiracy theories, their variance along a continuum, and the inconsistency of research findings likening them to psychopathology. Within this model, epistemic mistrust is the core component underlying conspiracist ideation that manifests as the rejection of authoritative information, focuses the specificity of conspiracy theory beliefs, and can sometimes be understood as a sociocultural response to breaches of trust, inequities of power, and existing racial prejudices. Once voices of authority are negated due to mistrust, the resulting epistemic vacuum can send individuals “down the rabbit hole” looking for answers where they are vulnerable to the biased processing of information and misinformation within an increasingly “post-truth” world. The two-component, socio-epistemic model of BCT argues for mitigation strategies that address both mistrust and misinformation processing, with interventions for individuals, institutions of authority, and society as a whole.
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*** In press---Advances in Political Psychology *** Scholarly efforts to understand conspiracy theories have grown significantly in recent years, and there is now a broad and interdisciplinary literature. In reviewing this body of work, we ask three specific questions. First, what factors are associated with conspiracy beliefs? Our review of the literature shows that conspiracy beliefs result from a range of psychological, political, and social factors. Next, how are conspiracy theories communicated? Here, we explain how conspiracy theories are shared among individuals and spread through traditional and social media platforms. Next, what are the societal risks and rewards associated with conspiracy theories? By focusing on politics and science, we argue that conspiracy theories do more harm than good. We conclude by suggesting several promising avenues for future research.
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Belief in conspiracy theories has often been associated with a biased perception of randomness, akin to a nothing-happens-by-accident heuristic. Indeed, a low prior for randomness (i.e., believing that randomness is a priori unlikely) could plausibly explain the tendency to believe that a planned deception lies behind many events, as well as the tendency to perceive meaningful information in scattered and irrelevant details; both of these tendencies are traits diagnostic of conspiracist ideation. In three studies, we investigated this hypothesis and failed to find the predicted association between low prior for randomness and conspiracist ideation, even when randomness was explicitly opposed to malevolent human intervention. Conspiracy believers' and nonbelievers' perceptions of randomness were not only indistinguishable from each other but also accurate compared with the normative view arising from the algorithmic information framework. Thus, the motto "nothing happens by accident," taken at face value, does not explain belief in conspiracy theories.
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Teleological explanations account for objects and events by reference to a functional consequence or purpose. Although they are popular in religion, they are unpopular in science: Physical scientists in particular explicitly reject them when explaining natural phenomena. However, prior research provides reasons to suspect that this explanatory form may represent a default explanatory preference. As a strong test of this hypothesis, we explored whether physical scientists endorse teleological explanations of natural phenomena when their information-processing resources are limited. In Study 1, physical scientists from top-ranked American universities judged explanations as true or false, either at speed or without time restriction. Like undergraduates and age-matched community participants, scientists demonstrated increased acceptance of unwarranted teleological explanations under speed despite maintaining high accuracy on control items. Scientists' overall endorsement of inaccurate teleological explanation was lower than comparison groups, however. In Study 2, we explored this further and found that the teleological tendencies of professional scientists did not differ from those of humanities scholars. Thus, although extended education appears to produce an overall reduction in inaccurate teleological explanation, specialization as a scientist does not, in itself, additionally ameliorate scientifically inaccurate purpose-based theories about the natural world. A religion-consistent default cognitive bias toward teleological explanation tenaciously persists and may have subtle but profound consequences for scientific progress. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved).
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The emergence and distribution of beliefs about the origins of species is investigated in Christian fundamentalist and nonfundamentalist school communities, with participants matched by age, educational level, and locale. Children (n = 185) and mothers (n = 92) were questioned about animate, inanimate, and artifact origins, and children were asked about their interests and natural-history knowledge. Preadolescents, like their mothers, embraced the dominant beliefs of their community, creationist or evolutionist; 8- to 10-year-olds were exclusively creationist, regardless of community of origin; 5- to 7-year-olds in fundamentalist schools endorsed creationism, whereas nonfundamentalists endorsed mixed creationist and spontaneous generationist beliefs. Children's natural-history knowledge and religious interest predicted their evolutionist and creationist beliefs, respectively, independently of parent beliefs. It is argued that this divergent developmental pattern is optimally explained with a model of constructive interactionism: Children generate intuitive beliefs about origins, both natural and intentional, while communities privilege certain beliefs and inhibit others, thus engendering diverse belief systems.
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Resistance to certain scientific ideas derives in large part from assumptions and biases that can be demonstrated experimentally in young children and that may persist into adulthood. In particular, both adults and children resist acquiring scientific information that clashes with common-sense intuitions about the physical and psychological domains. Additionally, when learning information from other people, both adults and children are sensitive to the trustworthiness of the source of that information. Resistance to science, then, is particularly exaggerated in societies where nonscientific ideologies have the advantages of being both grounded in common sense and transmitted by trustworthy sources.
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Traditional secular conspiracy theories and explanations of worldly events in terms of supernatural agency share interesting epistemic features. This paper explores what can be called “supernatural conspiracy theories”, by considering such supernatural explanations through the lens of recent work on the epistemology of secular conspiracy theories. After considering the similarities and the differences between the two types of theories, the prospects for agnosticism both with respect to secular conspiracy theories and the existence of God are then considered. Arguments regarding secular conspiracy theories suggest ways to defend agnosticism with respect to God from arguments that agnosticism is not a logically stable position and that it ultimately collapses into atheism, as has been argued by N. Russell Hanson and others. I conclude that such attacks on religious agnosticism fail to appreciate the conspiratorial features of God's alleged role in the universe.
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A large body of cognitive research has shown that people intuitively and effortlessly reason about the biological world in complex and systematic ways. We addressed two questions about the nature of intuitive biological reasoning: How does intuitive biological thinking change during adolescence and early adulthood? How does increasing biology education influence intuitive biological thinking? To do so, we developed a battery of measures to systematically test three components of intuitive biological thought: anthropocentric thinking, teleological thinking and essentialist thinking, and tested 8th graders and university students (both biology majors, and non-biology majors). Results reveal clear evidence of persistent intuitive reasoning among all populations studied, consistent but surprisingly small differences between 8th graders and college students on measures of intuitive biological thought, and consistent but again surprisingly small influence of increasing biology education on intuitive biological reasoning. Results speak to the persistence of intuitive reasoning, the importance of taking intuitive knowledge into account in science classrooms, and the necessity of interdisciplinary research to advance biology education. Further studies are necessary to investigate how cultural context and continued acquisition of expertise impact intuitive biology thinking.