Cognitive processes of conspiracy theories

Hierop ziet men voor- en tegenstanders rondom fake news discussieren
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Kajetan Sumila

What are we researching?

We are interested in the way people process information. Three questions are central to our research.

  • How do people make use of information to form a picture of the world?
  • What are the cognitive mechanisms that cause people to believe in disinformation and conspiracy theories?
  • How can we, as researchers, ensure that people become less susceptible to disinformation and conspiracy theories?

Why are we doing this research and how are we doing it?

Conspiracy thinking is of all times. For example, conspiracy theories already existed about the death of the Roman Emperor Nero. But, as the storming of the Capitol in Washington DC on January 6, 2021 shows, conspiracy thinking can have dangerous consequences. Therefore, it is essential to understand how this form of thinking originates and how it spreads among the population. We view conspiracy thinking as a cognitive process and investigate it using various methods, both within the psychological laboratory and in society. For example, we conduct psychological experiments and analyze how people express themselves on social media, using advanced computer techniques.

How does our research make an impact?

Misinformation and disinformation can contribute to the emergence and spread of conspiracy theories. Therefore, it is vital to understand how people process mis- and disinformation and how this influences conspiracy thinking. Many organizations and individuals do not want to spread mis- and disinformation. To avoid this, they need to look critically at the information they receive and disseminate. The results of our research can lead to advice on how to optimize the quality of information processing within individuals and organizations. For example, we can advise on how information can best be interpreted and passed on to others. For example, how do you deal with uncertainty? How do you determine the reliability of an information source? How do you interpret scientific research?

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