Does Labeling something as a "Conspiracy Theory" Impact its Credibility?
Like many others, I always thought about the credibility of something when you add the tag of a “conspiracy theory” to it...
It may just be me, but I have recently noticed that things once being labeled a “conspiracy theory” end up actually being true. Like many others, I always thought about the credibility of something when you add the tag of a “conspiracy theory” to it. Published in the British Journal of Psychology, a study has actually explored the psychology behind labeling ideas as conspiracy theories. The findings show that the label does not make it less believable but less believable claims are more likely to get called conspiracy theories.
There has been discussion about the negative connotation “conspiracy theory” carries and the belief that people may just use the term to discredit opinions. However, science is mind-blowing. People would assume that since the term carries such negativity if added to something people would find it less believable. Well, it’s actually not that way.
Karen M. Douglas and her team conducted four studies. The proposed belief was that adding the label does not cause an idea to be perceived as less credible. However, an idea’s lack of general credibility will cause people to label it a “conspiracy theory.”
“People use the term ‘conspiracy theory’ a lot, but we don’t know very much about what people think of the term and why and when they use it. Researchers have argued that the term is used when people want to discredit others’ ideas, but research suggests that labeling statements as conspiracy theories don’t actually reduce people’s belief in them. We wanted to delve deeper into this issue to understand when and why people use the term conspiracy theory.”
Karen M. Douglas, a professor of social psychology at the University of Kent, said.
170 adults read a series of claims that were either referred to as “conspiracy theories” or “ideas.” After reading whatever the statement was, the participants were then asked questions and then they rated the believability of the statement. There was just one question (out of seven) in which the ratings differed when a claim was labeled as an idea or a conspiracy theory. This would show that just calling something a conspiracy theory does not affect its credibility.
Another study had participants reading a series of different claims and this time they would rate how much they agreed with the statement and to the extent, they would label the study a conspiracy theory. Studies show that whenever an individual found the statement less agreeable, it was more likely to be labeled a conspiracy theory. This finding is in line with the study authors’ hypothesis that the label “conspiracy theory” is a consequence of a statement’s lack of credibility.
Two additional studies were conducted to offer to pad of support to the conclusion drawn. In the two final studies, participants read statements and were asked to label them plausible or implausible. Implausible statements were found to be labeled with ease as conspiracy theories.
“We found that rather than being a cause of disbelief in statements, the term ‘conspiracy theory’ seems to be a consequence. That is, people choose to use the term when they don’t believe a statement to be true.
Although the findings show that people favor terms like ‘conspiracy theory’ when they don’t believe something, we still don’t know much about what motivates people to use the terms. People might actively use these terms when they want to make someone feel more skeptical. We also know little about why people sometimes so actively reject the term ‘conspiracy theory’ when it comes to their own beliefs. More research with broader and more representative samples (including strong believers in conspiracy theories) is also needed.”
Karen M. Douglas told PsyPost.
The study, “Is the label ‘conspiracy theory’ a cause or a consequence of disbelief in alternative narratives?”, was authored by Karen M. Douglas, Jan-Willem van Prooijen, and Robbie M. Sutton.