Manipulation, Exaggeration and Conspiracy : Experimental Approaches to a Better Understanding of the Belief in Conspiracy Theories

Faculty/Professorship: General Psychology and Methodology  
Author(s): Raab, Marius  
Publisher Information: Bamberg : opus
Year of publication: 2016
Pages: 139, 3 ; Illustrationen, Diagramme
Supervisor(s): Carbon, Claus-Christian  ; Rüsseler, Jascha  
Language(s): English
Kumulative Dissertation, Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg, 2016
Licence: Creative Commons - CC BY - Attribution 3.0 International 
URN: urn:nbn:de:bvb:473-opus4-472343
This dissertation will explore conspiracy theories from a psychological viewpoint—both theoretically and empirically. Conspiracy theories are introduced here as a phenomenon relevant for many aspects of entertainment, history, popular culture, society, politics, and ideology. The phenomenon is defined and discussed, with its epistemic characteristics and ramifications, from a philosophical viewpoint. It is argued that there is no standard practice for the judgement of conspiracy theories, and that a case-by-case consideration is a pragmatic resolution for this epistemic problem. Along with proposing and implementing a new means of measurement for the belief in conspiracy theories in Raab, Ortlieb, Auer, Guthmann, and Carbon (2013) called narrative construction, it is argued that nearly everyone will construct a conspiracy theory for an important event (exemplified with the 9/11 attacks), which is probably
not a sign of delusion, but of identity construction and management. However, the genesis of such beliefs is prone to distortions. The mere presence of extreme (in terms of conspiratorial value) information might foster the construction of narrations significantly more extreme—without people noticing it. In Raab, Auer, Ortlieb, and Carbon (2013), we have called this the Sarrazin effect. To better understand why conspiratorial narrations are so widespread, powerful and possibly dangerous, psychological and philosophical theories are applied; for example, narrations (and thus conspiracy theories) can be considered cognitive simulations of possible states of the world. Here, it would also be desirable to understand why a given person adheres to a specific narrative content, so the link between personal values (in a psychological sense) and conspiracy belief was analysed empirically. The results were reported in a conference paper (Raab, Kammerl, & Carbon, 2015). Also, a current research question is if people automatically begin to elaborate conspiracy beliefs for a new event, or if it takes psychological triggers to start this process. We found empirical evidence in Gebauer, Raab, and Carbon (2016) that
information has to include testimony of causation (someone causing an event directly) and purpose (someone causing this deliberately), so that people begin to assume a conspiracy at work. To make the knowledge presented here, as well as the results gathered by researchers in the past years and decades, available to a larger audience, a work-in-progress project for a popular science book on conspiracy theories is presented. The conspiracy theory is the message then (speaking with Marshall McLuhan), as those theories extend our realm of human affairs. To integrate the findings of this thesis, a construction kit for conspiracy theories is proposed; and dangers as well as chances of such narrations are discussed with regard to societal progress.
GND Keywords: Verschwörungstheorie; Psychologie
Keywords: dissertation, conspiracy theory, psychology, experimental psychology, narratology
DDC Classification: 150 Psychology  
RVK Classification: CP 4000     CV 3500     CV 5500   
Type: Doctoralthesis
Year of publication: 5. December 2016

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