Suspicions of injustice: The sense-making function of belief in conspiracy theories

Jan Willem Van Prooijen*

*Corresponding author for this work

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


In contemporary society, people are frequently faced with threats to the social order (e.g., terrorist attacks). These threats often give rise to belief in conspiracy theories, which assume such events to be injustices that were secretly and deliberately planned by legitimate authorities or institutions. In the present chapter I propose that conspiracy beliefs are functional for basic sense-making desires when faced with events that threaten the social order. Recent findings indicate that contextual and personal factors that are likely to elicit sense-making activities (e.g., lacking control, feelings of uncertainty, high need for structure) increase the association between the perceived morality of institutions and conspiracy beliefs. Furthermore, additional findings reveal that an underlying mechanism why sense-making activities may lead to conspiracy beliefs is that people tend to attribute big causes to big events. To illuminate practical implications I connect these insights to knowledge on procedural justice, and reason that adhering to procedural justice principles may help to decrease conspiracy beliefs.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationJustice and Conflicts
Subtitle of host publicationTheoretical and Empirical Contributions
EditorsE Kals, J Maes
Place of PublicationBerlin Heidelberg
PublisherSpringer Verlag
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9783642190353
ISBN (Print)3642190340, 9783642190346
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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