Social exclusion leads to conspiratorial thinking, study finds

Monday, Feb 20, 2017
by Center for Health & Wellbeing

Recent polls have shown that many white, working-class people in America feel pushed out by society, a reason why many voted for President Donald Trump. Many of these supporters latched onto misinformation spread online, especially stories that justified their own beliefs.

New research may show why so many were willing to believe exaggerated and misleading reports. According to a Princeton University study published in the Journal of Experimental and Social Psychology, social exclusion leads to conspiratorial thinking.

The two-part analysis — which did not specifically investigate Trump supporters, but two random samples of people — found that the feelings of despair brought on by social exclusion can cause people to seek meaning in miraculous stories, which may not necessarily be true.

Such conspiratorial thinking leads to a dangerous cycle, said co-lead author Alin Coman, assistant professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton. When those with conspiratorial ideas share their beliefs, it can drive away family and friends, triggering even more exclusion. This may lead them to join conspiracy theory communities where they feel welcome, which in turn will further entrench their beliefs.

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