Conspiracy theories explained by a cheating detection mechanism

Publié le 31 août 2023 Mis à jour le 31 août 2023

Benjamin Aubert-Teillaud, David C. Vaidis (CLLE)

Editeur : Social and Personality Psychology Compass
Date : 17 août 2023

Research on conspiracy theories sometimes tends to pathologise this phenomenon with a focus on the impact of (sub)pathological predictors. However, socio-political factors also play a significant role in predicting belief in specific conspiracy theories. The aim of this article is to bridge these two perspectives through a unified cognitive mechanism. Based on an overlap between cheating and conspiracy concepts, we assume a cheating detection mechanism likely to underlie belief in conspiracy theories. Starting from the adaptive challenges of cheating detection, we explore the workings of this mechanism using signal detection theory and error management theory. The probability of cheating and decision bias according to the asymmetry of error costs in cheating detection could lead individuals to infer conspiracy theories. This functional mechanism not only explains the links between socio-political predictors and adherence to conspiracy theories but also helps us deduce alterations that may foster a stable inclination towards believing in conspiracy theories. These alterations, in turn, offer an explanation for the links between (sub)pathological predictors and conspiracy mentality. By integrating existing literature, our proposed model sheds light on the mechanisms underlying belief in conspiracy theories and presents new predictions to guide future research.