How are conspiracy theories adopted and what are their risks?

CREST has launched a new report today on why people adopt conspiracy theories, how these are communicated, and risks they possess.

Conspiracy Theories: How are they adopted, communicated, and what are their risks? Cover
Click here to download the report.

The new CREST report, by Karen Douglas, Robbie Sutton, Aleksandra Cichocka, Jim Ang, Farzin Deravi, Joseph Uscinski and Turkay Nefes, provides a comprehensive and interdisciplinary review of the existing conspiracy theory research. It examines these questions using perspectives from psychology, information engineering, political science, and sociology.

Conspiracy theories are more than just conversations in the local pub about who might have killed Princess Diana, or whether 9/11 was an inside job. In recent years, conspiracy theories have been tied to extremism, radical politics, and terrorism.  Conspiracy theories have also driven people to eschew mainstream science and medicine, putting both the environment and society’s health at risk by not vaccinating children against measles.

Conspiracy theories have also been closely linked to prejudice and racial violence.  Historically and across the globe, conspiracy theories have played prominent roles in witch-hunts, revolutions, and genocide.

The report, focuses on three specific areas:

  1. First, it explores the extant literature that addresses beliefs in conspiracy theories, focusing on the psychological, political and social factors that correlate with heightened belief. That is, what factors predict conspiracy belief?
  2. Second, it examines the ways in which conspiracy theories travel across interpersonal relations, through traditional and new media, and on social media. That is, when are conspiracy theories communicated, through what means and in what forms, and what are the motives for these communications?
  3. Third, it considers the risks and rewards associated with conspiracy theories. In other words, what is the relationship between conspiracy theories and prejudice, the rejection of science and medicine, and radicalisation and extremism? How do conspiracy theories contribute to these and other social ills? To buttress this discussion, the report also assesses the opposite side of the ledger and denote the benefits gained from conspiracy theories and for the people who believe them.


You can find the full report here.

You can find all the outputs on conspiracy theories here.

These reports are products from the ‘Why Do People Adopt Conspiracy Theories, How Are They Communicated, And What Are Their Risks?’ programme, led by Professor Karen Douglas at the University of Kent. This project is a multi-disciplinary literature review on the emergence, transmission, spread, and countering of conspiracy theories. The project was funded by the Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats. You can read more about the project here.

This report is produced under a Creative Commons 4.0 BY-NC-SA licence. For more information on how you can use our content read our copyright page.