There’s a connection between narcissists and conspiracy theories, an Australian researcher has found.
Bond University PhD student Tylor Cosgrove has been researching the different characteristics and personality traits associated with belief in conspiracies.
Conspiracy theories can be dangerous, but they are effective because they play on people’s emotions and feed into their worldview, Cosgrove said, adding that “very consistently” there is a link between conspiracy beliefs and narcissism.
“There’s narcissism which kind of exists on a spectrum within the general population and then there’s narcissistic personality disorder, which is at the far end of the spectrum and is actually a clinical diagnosis,” Cosgrove told The New Daily.
What’s the appeal?
Conspiracy theories go beyond mythical creatures these day and they can exist on both ends of the political spectrum.
Sometimes, conspiracies make people feel special, which can be why they are so alluring to narcissists.
“They make people feel like they are sort of smarter than the rest of the ‘sheep’,” Cosgrove said.
“You know, they’re smart enough to figure it all out and they’re privy to this information that most people aren’t.”
Not all narcissists are conspiracy theorists and vice versa, however, those two groups tend to think in black and white, when in reality everything is more of a grey area, he said.
“If they deal in black and white they can say, ‘Well, I’m always right, I’m always good, everyone else is always bad’, that type of thing,” Cosgrove said.
“And conspiracy theories fit that worldview, in that they offer very, very simple explanations often for complex problems.”
For example, in response to the COVID pandemic while many people acknowledged what was happening and accepted there were many unanswered questions, conspiracists believed it was a hoax, which meant there wasn’t anything to worry about.
Experts used to think that if someone believes in one conspiracy, they will believe in all conspiracy theories.
However, Cosgrove said that recent research suggests that people tend to pick and choose theories that support their belief system and world view.
“If someone is narcissistic and happened to be sort of left-leaning with their political views, you’re much more likely to believe conspiracy theories that are disparaging of the right and vice versa,” he said.
A research finding that surprised Cosgrove was that highly-educated narcissists were just as likely, or more likely, to believe in conspiracy theories.
Conspiracy theories can have damning and deadly implications.
The January 6, 2021, insurrection in the US was built on the conspiracy theory that the election was stolen from Donald Trump: People died following a vicious assault on America’s democracy.
COVID-related conspiracies may well have resulted in deaths, if people believed the theories about vaccines.
While usually there is a lot of evidence to disprove conspiracies, it is hard to debunk them, especially when dealing with a narcissist.
“If you present them with scientific evidence, they don’t trust scientists already, so why would they change their beliefs, same thing with government or elected officials,” Cosgrove said.
Telling someone with narcissistic tendencies they are wrong isn’t going to help them see the light; instead, they will likely dig their heels in, try to discredit everyone else and take the correction as a personal attack.
Cosgrove says there are a few things to help conspiracy theorists and narcissists listen to reason.
Conspiratorial beliefs are so prevalent online that it’s best to ensure someone who has fallen “down the rabbit hole” is socialising in the real world and they are included.
The more time they spend online, speaking with others in the rabbit hole, the more they will grow to think that way of thinking is the norm.
There’s another way of getting people out of the conspiratorial mindset which is gaining more evidence – pre-bunking.
It is an idea being developed at Cambridge University by Dr Sander van der Linden.
It works by educating people on how conspiracy theories work and explaining how they gain traction before people are exposed to them.
“The researchers and people implementing this type of thing, they try and expose as many people as possible to basically like a weakened dose of the conspiracy theory and misinformation,” Cosgrove said.
“With the aid of that when that [theory] does come up in the future, they’ve already seen it, and it has already been explained to them.”