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Consequences of conspiracy theories

Project description

What happens when we fall for conspiracy theories?

Conspiracy theories – such as the idea that climate change is a hoax or that COVID-19 was manufactured in a Chinese laboratory – thrive in times of crisis and social upheaval. However, little is known about their consequences for individuals, groups, and societies. The ERC-funded CONSPIRACY_FX project will move beyond the state of the art to identify when, how, and why conspiracy theories matter. It will investigate the extent to which conspiracy theories contribute to populist and extremist politics, vaccine hesitancy, and reluctance to engage with climate change. The project will also seek to gain a better understanding of what politicians and elites can gain and lose from spreading conspiracy theories.


The rise of conspiracy theories is often framed as a cause of various social ills such as declining public trust in democracy, the growing allure of populist and extremist politics, and the rejection of scientific consensus in favour of hearsay and fake news. However, the extent to which conspiracy theories contribute to these problems is not clear. Despite hundreds of academic articles on this topic in recent years, and significant interest in conspiracy theories in both academic and non-academic circles, there has never been a systematic investigation of their consequences. In fact, we know very little about when, how, and why conspiracy theories affect the decisions and wellbeing of individuals and societies.

The current project will address this issue, pulling together a team of three postdoctoral researchers, two PhD students, one Masters student, and senior collaborators from a range of academic disciplines. To discover when and how conspiracy theories are influential, three sub-projects will each focus on one of the key contexts in which conspiracy theories have shown the most potential to shape people’s beliefs and behaviours: politics, vaccination, and climate change. To understand why conspiracy theories are influential, a fourth sub-project will focus on the consequences of conspiracy theories for the persons who spread them, concentrating in particular on the use of conspiracy theories by politicians and other elites.

A project on this scale, and with this level of sophistication, has never been attempted before. It will adopt a mixed-methods approach using archival and social media analyses, interviews, cross-sectional and longitudinal surveys, and experiments (including attitude, behavioural, cognitive/neuropsychological and physiological techniques). This project will move significantly beyond the state-of-the-art in the literature to identify when, how, and why conspiracy theories matter.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 2 499 185,00
CT2 7NZ Canterbury, Kent
United Kingdom

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South East (England) Kent East Kent
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 2 499 185,00

Beneficiaries (1)