Conspiracy theories flourish even when there is no official explanation to react against, finds a psychologist who has examined reactions to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 -- the passenger jet that disappeared without a trace in March 2014.
Dr Karen Douglas from the University of Kent presented her work today, Thursday 11 September, at the annual conference of the British Psychological Society's Social Psychology Section in Canterbury.
Dr Douglas asked 250 participants to rate their agreement with a range of conspiracy explanations for the disappearance of MH370. They were also asked to rate their agreement with well-known conspiracy theories, such as those about the 9/11 attacks and the death of Princess Diana. Participants were also asked to complete psychological measures of personality variables.
Dr Douglas said: "We expected that people who believe in MH370 conspiracy theories would also believe in other well-known conspiracy theories. However, we hypothesised that whilst variables such as paranoia, powerlessness and mistrust would predict beliefs in well-known conspiracy theories, variables such as the need for cognitive closure and belief in an unjust world may instead predict endorsement of MH370 conspiracy theories, where no official explanation exists.
"Results confirmed that people who believe in MH370 conspiracy theories also endorse well-known conspiracy theories. However, the psychological predictors of conspiracy beliefs may be the same whether an official explanation has been established or not."
Dr Douglas argued that these findings support the idea that conspiracy theories form part of a self-sustaining worldview composed of a network of mutually supportive beliefs. They do not necessarily need an official explanation to react against.
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