Van Prooijen, J.-W., & Van Dijk, E. (2014). When consequence size predicts belief in conspiracy theories: The moderating role of perspective taking. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 55, 63-73.
People believe in conspiracy theories more strongly following consequential as opposed to inconsequential events. We expected this effect to be most pronounced among people who take the perspective of the group that is directly affected by the event. Five studies support our line of reasoning. Studies 1 and 4 reveal that participants endorsed stronger conspiracy beliefs when reading about an event with big consequences (i.e., an opposition leader of an African country died in a car crash) than when reading about an event with small consequences (the opposition leader survived the car crash), but only among participants who took the perspective of the citizens of the African country. Similar findings emerged using an individual difference measure of perspective-taking abilities, and with different operationalizations of conspiracy beliefs (Studies 2 and 3). Study 5 revealed that the effects of perspective-taking are mediated by participants’ own sense-making motivation. It is concluded that perspective taking promotes conspiracy beliefs when confronted with events that are harmful to another group.