In my research, I take a unique experimental approach to studying the social psychological consequences of conspiracy theories. Millions of people from across the globe believe in conspiracy theories that explain events as the result of secret, deliberate actions and cover-ups at the hands of powerful and malevolent groups. In the UK, a YouGov Poll has recently shown that 60% of Britons believe in conspiracy theories. My research to date demonstrates that exposure to conspiracy theories may be an important source of disengagement with politics and a lack of concern about the environment (BJP, 2014, IF 2.507), and a potential obstacle to child vaccination uptake (PLoSONE, 2014, 2014, IF 2.766). I have also demonstrated that conspiracy theories may divert attention from inherent limitations of social systems which may reduce, rather than increase, the likelihood of social and political change (Political Psychology, 2018, IF 2.782). I have sought to test social psychological techniques to attenuate the impact of anti-vaccine conspiracy theories and found that once a conspiracy theory has taken root, it can be resistant to correction (JASP, 2017, IF 1.439). These publications have already been cited over 344 times (Google Scholar, Feb ‘19).
My research continues to explore important issues, such as examining the causal link between conspiracy theories, prejudice, and discrimination (BJP, in press, IF 2.507), and whether the belief that powerful others have conspired may make people more inclined towards unethical actions (BJSP, in press, IF 1.775). The former paper, for example, has demonstrated for the first time that intergroup conspiracy can directly increase prejudice and discrimination. Perhaps most importantly, we also demonstrate how the prejudice-enhancing effects of intergroup conspiracy theories are not limited to the group targeted by the conspiracy but can spread to other, uninvolved groups. These issues are therefore not just highly topical, but of great significance for society.
You can find details on my publications here.
I have secured research funding to continue this research and develop new avenues of study. For example, I have recently secured a BA/Leverhulme small grant (£9.6k, PI) to develop and validate a conspiracy belief questionnaire suitable for adolescents. To date, research has focused only on adults and no studies have examined conspiracy beliefs amongst younger people. This novel questionnaire will enable an exploration of the psychological antecedents and consequences of conspiracy thinking in younger populations and explore the origins of conspiracy beliefs.
You can find details on my funding here.
Collaboration is paramount to my research. I work closely with academics in the UK and internationally. I am an active member of an interdisciplinary COST network -Comparative Analysis of Conspiracy Theories– that bring international scholars from varying disciplines into direct contact, such as from political science, sociology, and history. In addition, I work with a variety of stakeholders, such as the MET police where I am currently advising on the role of conspiracy theories. I regularly speak to other stakeholders to advise on the psychology of conspiracy theories more broadly, such as to the Public Policy team in YouTube.
I have been invited to give talks to stakeholders (e.g., Police Commissioners Annual Conference) and the general public (e.g., Cheltenham Science Festival, Skeptics in the Pub, Psychology in the Pub events across the UK; see my talks page), and due to the timely and newsworthy nature of my research I am regularly invited to speak to a variety of media outlets for both print and digital media – for example, in 2018 I appeared on the popular U.S TV show Adam Ruins Everything; in 2019 my research has been featured in the Guardian, the Independent and Sky News, and I have given several radio interviews, such as on BBC Five Live, TalkRADIO and BBC Sussex.
I also maintain a strong network within academia by presenting at national and international conferences and have been invited to a number of other university departmental talks (e.g., Keele University, Birmingham City University) and BPS events (e.g., BPS Annual Conference, Research Spotlight). In addition, I contribute to a popular blog based around the psychology of conspiracy theories (www.conspiracypsychology.com), which has received over 331,000 views.