According to a new analysis published in Personality and Individual Differences, people who have difficulty managing their emotions are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories.
Emotion regulation is the ability to be aware, accept, and comprehend one's emotions, as well as the ability to control impulses and act in alignment with personal goals when experiencing negative emotions.
"Scholars have argued that conspiracy beliefs have emotional underpinnings," according to Zuzanna Molenda, a PhD student at the Polish Academy of Sciences and a member of the Political Cognition Lab.
“Specifically, Marchlewska and colleagues demonstrated that impaired stress management is linked to higher conspiracy beliefs,” said a researcher.
“My colleagues from the Polish Academy of Sciences and the University of Kent hypothesized that individuals who do not have sufficient abilities to deal with emotions – that is, those who have greater difficulties with emotion regulation – might be more prone to believe in conspiracy theories,” says the author.
The researchers recruited 391 participants from Prolific, a crowdsourcing platform, to perform a research on generic prospiracist beliefs. Items include "The power held by heads of state is second to that of small unknown groups who really control world politics."
They also completed a modified version of the Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale, in which they indicated their agreement with statements such as "When I'm upset, I become angry with myself for feeling that way," "When I'm upset, it takes me a long time to feel better," and "When I'm upset, I become embarrassed for feeling that way."
Molenda and her colleagues concluded that people with higher levels of emotion dysregulation are more likely to endorse conspiracist beliefs. The researchers then replicated the findings in a sample of 411 U.K. participants recruited from Prolific. Importantly, the findings retained even after considering social conservatism, economic conservatism, and gender.
Molenda told PsyPost that more and more research in different areas of social psychology have shown that emotion regulation plays a significant role in how we perceive, interpret, and respond to social situations.
"My experience suggests that emotion dysregulation is related not only to an individual's happiness, but also to other important social phenomena, which makes emotion regulation even more important to investigate. For example, how we perceive the world is linked to sudden events that induce negative emotions and stress," says the author.
Molenda and her colleagues sought to investigate conspiracy theories rather than general theories for their third study.
Researchers interviewed 558 Polish participants about their beliefs in specific conspiracies, such as: "Gender [ideology] was created in order to destroy the Christian tradition," "Tiny devices are placed in vaccines to track people," "Climate change is a hoax," and "The results of the 2020 presidential election were falsified."
According to their previous investigations, emotion dysregulation predicted belief in all four conspiracy theories.
“We included conspiracy theories that are appealing to liberals (presidential election conspiracy) and conservatives (e.g., 'gender' conspiracy) in Study 3 (conducted in Poland),” said Molenda.
Future research must address a critical issue: causality.
Molenda explained that the three investigations we presented in this line of research were correlational. That means that we can't draw any definitive conclusions about the causal nature of the relationship between emotion dysregulation and conspiracy beliefs.
"Experimental and longitudinal approaches are extremely required. Moreover, I'd like to investigate the possible mechanism of the relationship between emotion dysregulation and conspiracy beliefs, for example, by investigating the role of negative emotions."
Zuzanna Molenda, Ricky Green, Marta Marchlewska, Aleksandra Cichocka, and Karen M. Douglas co-authored the research titled "Emotion dysregulation and conspiracy theories."