Negative childhood experiences can lead people to believe in conspiracy theories

Negative childhood experiences can lead people to believe in conspiracy theories

Belief in conspiracy theories stems – in part – from negative early childhood experiences with caregivers, new research has shown.

In two studies, Ricky Green and Professor Karen Douglas, of the University of Kent's School of Psychology, found that participants with what is termed 'anxious attachment style' were more likely to believe in conspiracy theories.

An anxious attachment style is formed in childhood when a caregiver is inconsistently available. Once formed, this attachment style perseveres in adulthood, where it colours many aspects of people's lives such as their friendships and attitudes.

The research found that participants with anxious attachment style not only believed in general notions of conspiracy but also specific established conspiracy theories, such as that Princess Diana was assassinated by the British Secret Service.

Anxious attachment style also explained belief in conspiracy theories whilst taking into account other important factors such as general feelings of mistrust, age, education and religiosity.

The findings add further evidence that attachment not only influences how a person interacts with others, but also that it influences people's worldviews and political attitudes, say the researchers.

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The paper, entitled Anxious attachment and belief in conspiracy theories (Ricky Green and Karen M. Douglas) is published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. See: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0191886917307377

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Notes to editors

Established in 1965, the University of Kent – the UK's European university – now has almost 20,000 students across campuses or study centres at Canterbury, Medway, Tonbridge, Brussels, Paris, Athens and Rome.

It has been ranked 22nd in the Guardian University Guide 2018 and 25th in the Complete University Guide 2018, and in June 2017 was awarded a gold rating, the highest, in the UK Government's Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).In the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2015-16, it is in the top 10% of the world's leading universities for international outlook and 66th in its table of the most international universities in the world. The THE also ranked the University as 20th in its 'Table of Tables' 2016.

Kent is ranked 17th in the UK for research intensity (REF 2014). It has world-leading research in all subjects and 97% of its research is deemed by the REF to be of international quality.

In the National Student Survey 2016, Kent achieved the fourth highest score for overall student satisfaction, out of all publicly funded, multi-faculty universities. Along with the universities of East Anglia and Essex, Kent is a member of the Eastern Arc Research Consortium (http://www.kent.ac.uk/about/partnerships/eastern-arc.html). The University is worth £0.7 billion to the economy of the south east and supports more than 7,800 jobs in the region. Student off-campus spend contributes £293.3m and 2,532 full-time-equivalent jobs to those totals.

Kent has received two Queen's Anniversary prizes for Higher and Further Education.

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Martin Herrema
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2017.12.023

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