Belief in conspiracy theories: Gullibility or rational skepticism?

Jan Willem van Prooijen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book / Report / Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


In this chapter, we consider the factors that attract people toward conspiracy theories and also consider whether or not belief in conspiracy theories is a sign of gullibility. We first review the framework of Douglas, Sutton, and Cichocka (2017), which explains that belief in conspiracy theories is driven by epistemic, existential, and social motives. In reviewing the literature on the psychology of conspiracy belief, we conclude that people who believe in conspiracy theories will not simply believe anything they hear. Instead, people appear to believe conspiracy theories that appeal to these three important psychological motives. Conspiracy believers can therefore not be dismissed as gullible and researchers should not characterize them as such. In the remainder of the chapter, we highlight some of the social consequences of conspiracy theories. To date, research reveals that while conspiracy theories may seem attractive to people when they are seeking to satisfy their psychological motives, unfortunately they may sometimes do more harm than good.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Social Psychology of Gullibility
Subtitle of host publicationConspiracy Theories, Fake News and Irrational Beliefs
EditorsJoseph P. Forgas, Roy Baumeister
PublisherTaylor and Francis Inc.
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9780429512193
ISBN (Print)9780367187934
Publication statusPublished - 26 Apr 2019


Dive into the research topics of 'Belief in conspiracy theories: Gullibility or rational skepticism?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this