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Reasoning ability predicts irrational worldview but not conspiracy belief

Jan Jastrzębski (
Institute of Psychology, Jagiellonian University
Grodzka 52, 31-044 Krakow, Poland

Adam Chuderski (
Institute of Philosophy, Jagiellonian University
Grodzka 52, 31-044 Krakow, Poland

Abstract Premuzic, & Furnham, 2010), contradictory (Wood,
Douglas, & Sutton, 2012), or the second one is fictional and
Previous research showed that individual tendency to believe in encountered for the first time (Swami et al., 2011). Such a
conspiracy theories is related to numerous social, personality, and kind of conspiratorial mentality was associated with
cognitive variables. Moreover, such a tendency may reflect a numerous socio-psychological variables, including anomie,
broader trait for epistemic irrationality, which drives other pseudo-
powerlessness, feeling of meaninglessness, distrust,
scientific and paranormal beliefs. However, the relationship
between conspiracy belief and reasoning ability (fluid intelligence; authoritarianism, political cynicism, low self-esteem, and
Gf) was not sufficiently studied to date, even though Gf level schizotypy (Goertzel, 1994; Abalakina-Paap, Stephan,
strongly influence the way in which individuals think and reason. Craig, & Gregory, 1999; Swami et al., 2010; Swami et al.,
Using confirmatory factor analysis, we found the robust link 2011). Moreover, conspiracy belief is closely related to
between conspiracy belief and other irrational beliefs. All those other epistemically dubious beliefs, like paranormal and
irrational beliefs were also substantially related to the close- pseudoscientific claims and theories (Lobato, Mendoza,
minded cognitive style. However, even though Gf significantly Sims, & Chin, 2014). Altogether, paranormal, pseudo-
predicted other irrational beliefs, it explained less than 2% of scientific, and conspiracy beliefs may result from one and
variance in conspiracy belief. This result suggests that effective
the same irrational worldview/mindset.
reasoning cannot prevent even highly intelligent people from
endorsing conspiracy theories. The problem that we investigated was how are various
instances of irrational thought, and particularly conspiracy
Keywords: rationality; intelligence; conspiracy theory; belief, related to reasoning ability (fluid intelligence; Gf),
paranormal beliefs; pseudoscience; which is defined as the ability to solve novel problems by
means of abstract reasoning. As Gf strongly predicts many
Introduction socio-psychological variables (see Deary, 2012), can Gf also
Conspiracy theory is an explanation of a significant event, predict individual tendency for irrational beliefs? At least
like the sudden death of famous person, terrorists attack, or intuitively, it seemed reasonable to expect that more intelli-
catastrophe, as resulting from some secret plot made by a gent people, because of their more powerful reasoning,
powerful organization or a group of powerful individuals. would be more sceptical toward dubious, unsupported
Although, in principle, such theories may be true (e.g., the beliefs, including conspiracy theories. Besides intuition,
Watergate scandal), usually they are insufficiently supported numerous premises can be found in existing literature.
by facts, disregarded by experts, and based on pseudo- First, positive correlations between intuitive thinking style
scientific assumptions. and conspiracy belief were reported. Also, experimentally
Importantly, the belief in conspiracy theories (henceforth, induced willingness to engage in analytic reasoning reduced
conspiracy belief) pertains not only to advocates of extreme this belief (Swami, Voracek, Stieger, Tran, & Furnham,
ideologies or to paranoid and delusional individuals, but is 2014). Thus, a disposition for reflective thinking may help
prevalent in diverse cultures and societies (Raab, Ortlieb, to embrace more sceptical stance towards irrational claims
Auer, Guthmann, & Carbon, 2013). Although to date most and theories, and may affect one’s worldview even counter
of research on the topic was conducted in Western to cultural factors (Pennycook, Fugelsang, & Koehler,
countries, some studies showed that conspiracy belief is a 2015). Moreover, tendency for analytic thinking may
widespread phenomenon among people all over the world prevent people from relying on intuitions and “gut feelings”
(e.g. Raab, 2013; Goertzel, 1994; Swami et al., 2011; that often lead to cognitive biases and heuristics, which
Bruder, Haffke, Neave, Nouripanah, & Imhoff, 2013). may, at least to some extent, drive conspiracy belief. For
Certain people are more likely to hold conspiracy belief example, Clarke (2002) argued that such a belief may stem
than others. What is important, this tendency may be a part from attribution bias, which consists of overestimating the
of more general mindset, worldview or mentality (Goertzel, influence of personal factors, and ascribing responsibility
1994; Dagnall, Drinkwater, Parker, Denovan, & Parton, primarily to agents, instead of explaining events in terms of
2015; Imhoff & Bruder, 2014). People who believe in one situational factors and coincidence. Likewise, it was argued
conspiracy theory are also more likely to believe in another that this belief may be related to representativeness
one, even if the theories are unrelated (Swami, Chamorro- heuristic, which leads people to seek explanations that


because higher Gf levels allow more effective processing of relations among objects.possess salience proportional to the very significance of belief in conspiracy theories. though weak. and facts Method (Chuderski. 2014). range The main goal of the study was to fill in the gap in existing 18 . the and open-minded thinking scale. most of its advocates are right-wing/conservative). and counter-evidence. The mean age was 24. Falkenhayn. A total of 318 voluntary participants (218 women. Finally. The participants were paid an equivalent of 20 euros in Polish Study currency. but the flow). we used one questionnaire to measure paranormal conspiracies has not been studied sufficiently enough. Importantly. the death of President Kennedy and relationship between the two. beliefs. Swami et al. Generic Conspiracist Beliefs Scale (GCB) (Brotherton et al. each construct. as well as pseudoscientific ones (Labato et al. 2014). and which irrational beliefs might be at least partially mediated by thus may bias the relationship between reasoning ability and cognitive style. that enables broader generalization of the results. but deals with common conspiratorial paranormal/pseudoscientific beliefs and intelligence (e. what is essential for Princess Diana). which is a reasoning error consisting of assessing between conspiracy and paranormal/pseudoscientific belief the probability of two co-occurring events as being more we used multiple measures of each belief. Since major events need replicate the results that show moderate positive correlations major explanations.g.g. Only one study to date examined this relationship (Swami In addition. started by distinctive case of conspiracy theory in the Polish society.g. However. Such relations can be used to create Participants counterexamples in a reasoning process (Johnson-Laird. people may see ordinary causes of between different kinds of dubious beliefs: conspiracy. Consistently. 2014). Finally. We expected reasoning ability to at least weakly predict 2291 . Furthermore. 2014)... Although there can be a positive other societies (e. 2014.. as well as we likely than the joint probability that these events will occur applied latent variable modelling by means of confirmatory alone.02. Open-minded thinking was study reported weak negative correlation of conspiracy previously shown to be negatively (though rather weakly) belief and crystallized intelligence (Gc) – the ability to use related to conspiracy belief (Swami et al. To avoid such a bias. Although such a possible mediation so far conspiracy belief. The Smolensk conspiracy is probably the most relationship between intelligence and rationality. First. and another for pseudoscientific beliefs. great-impact events as unsatisfying and thus unlikely. governments totally controling the information Rindermann. A research program aimed at understanding the in Smolensk. the relationship between intelligence compared to using single measures (see Kline. we also applied a has never been studied in the context of conspiracy theories. themes (e. as so we applied two questionnaires: NEO-openness subscale this measure of intelligence had low validity. we measured open-minded cognitive style. GCB does not concern any particular Finally.. and biased/irrational thinking is not straightforward. some may not be related to intelligence at are strongly culture-specific. 2011). Gf acquired experience and knowledge. and calculating latent variables enables a a negative relationship between intelligence and conspiracy more valid and reliable measurement of the constructs in belief may also exist. as On the other hand. 100 men) 2006). it is possible that some specific rationality may be such thinking dispositions as the factors may play a crucial role for the Smolensk conspiracy willingness to think reflectively and open-mindedly. High reasoning ability may measure belief in a particular conspiracy theory pertaining not be enough to prevent people from embracing dubious to political situation in Poland: the theory about catastrophe theories. thus may embrace conspiracy theories instead. it showed a negative. the relationship between intelligence and which might not drive other conspiracy theories. 1998). measure of general conspiratorial beliefs and attitudes – The some supporting evidence comes from studies on para. and paranormal. Four participants did not complete all the applied data on the relationship between Gf and conspiracy belief. we intended to events (Leman & Cinnirella. 2008). To do intelligence. 2011). one scale was created to all (Stanovich & West. question as well as the relationships between them. perspectives. Because many conspiracy theories reasoning ability.4 years (SD = 6.45). Stanovich. put emphasis on the need to distinguish between and it is similar to conspiratorial themes that are vivid in these two mental qualities. However. et al. We applied two measures of conspiracy belief to a large Although some biases might be attenuated by higher sample of Polish adults. questionnaires and were excluded from the analysis. 2015). (e. studies showed a moderate negative link between conspiracy theory.. Brotherton and French (2014) showed the people displaying In order to test the strength of the conspiracy-reasoning conspiratorial mentality to be more prone to conjunction link as well as to examine the strength of relationship fallacy. this result does not seem reliable. relationship between intelligence and conspiracy belief in Also. were recruited via ads in publicly accessible websites. events. Gf may be was measured with two visuospatial tests and one numerical even more important for the rejection of conspiracy theories test that involved abstract reasoning.. However.g. & Baumeister. 2014. normal and religious beliefs (Pennycook. Applying more than one measure of moderately related to intelligence (Pennycook et al. 2007). 2014). understood as mental flexibility and openness toward the correlation between conspiracy belief and self-assessed alternative views... Brotherton & French. Second. than Gc. As the tendency for analytical thinking is at least factor analysis (CFA).

despite his tense political relations with the Russian administered in shortened versions (18 items each). experts (PCINAA. sequence/array with the missing number. as well to commemorate Polish officers killed by Soviets during as Figural Analogies (Chuderski & Necka. Participants were five years after the catastrophe. and to complete the nation of the catastrophe is straightforward. extraterrestrial cover-up.g. The The Generic Conspiracist Beliefs scale total score on the scale was reversed. sticking to one’s beliefs even in the face of counterevidence (e. 2004). Each of government of President Vladimir Putin. We removed four particular conspiracy theories requires that the participants items concerning religious belief. in which the to start. 2012). the mind control measures.. as well as the trend for belief in the official explanation of the catastrophe. and the full are true or false using a seven-point scale (0 = false for sure. 1983). groups exerting the control over global events. as we applied a separate are familiar with them and their cultural context. The Gf tests were science. At increase probability of acquiring autism among small child. a public opinion survey given 18 minutes to solve the 18 number series problems. the Smolensk catastrophe made a crucial included 14 items from Actively Open-minded Thinking and interesting case of conspiracy belief (henceforth we call scale (Stanovich & West. and five reverse-scored items probing dogmatic. with seven items measuring belief in the higher scores represented a larger tendency toward rigid. while the presidential campaign in Poland was about respectively). the two tests was composed of odd numbered items from President Kaczynski and his conservative camp strongly respective standard 36-item versions. The Participants were tested in a psychological laboratory. Court. participants judged whether the given statements experiments). 2292 . Number series test). Procedure science belief and disapproval of scientific knowledge. so that higher total We used the validated 15-item scale of Brotherton et al. Loch Ness the Polish President’s plane crashed. sequence or the array is constructed. 5 = definitely agree) and a four-point scale were and/or well-known public figures. in items covered range of topics (medicine/health. The classic Gf test – Raven’s Kaczynski. Smolensk conspiracy. & Raven. Figural Analogy with 9 filler items dealing with general scientific know.g. including President Lech Kaczynski. The final version contained 20 items such as The Smolensk catastrophe was judged by official aviation “In some cases it is possible to communicate with the dead”. psychology. Studying Paranormal Belief Scale (Tobacyk. died. selected on the basis of our it the Smolensk conspiracy). natural groups of six participants on average. flexible thinking.) unrelated to the topic of this study. The (2014) to measure the general tendency for conspiracy second questionnaire was an 12-item openness to experience belief. dangers to In all of the questionnaires except the cognitive style personal health and liberties (e. even though the expla. and were mixed applied in the fixed order (Raven APM. 2007). Furthermore. and all of the 96 crew monster). The crash Fluid intelligence tests had a specific political context: The death of President We applied three Gf tests. in which concerning extra-ordinary life forms (e. evolution. used in the Open-minded Thinking and the NEO-openness scales. All the questionnaires were ledge. “Changing your mind is a sign of weakness”). participants. We removed another three items catastrophe in Smolensk (the Russian Federation). Consequently. The scale covers general conspiratorial assumptions subscale of the Polish adaptation of the NEO-Five Factor such as beliefs in prevalent government misconduct. who travelled across Russian territory. Our choice religious beliefs questionnaire in the session (not analysed of a theme for well-known conspiracy theory was the 2010 in the present study). Test. as being outdated and possibly unfamiliar to our and passengers.Materials Paranormal Belief Scale Smolensk Conspiracy Scale Our measure of paranormal belief was based on Revised Conspiracy theories are cultural phenomena. The sample item was “The 3 = uncertain. All 14 items were scored in such a way that was developed. Five-point (1 = definitely governments are involved in the murder of innocent citizens disagree. questionnaires. and keep this a secret”. sexuality). were WWII. So. Their administration opposed the Polish government and its supporting liberal time was half of the standard one (20 and 15 minutes party. 6 = true for sure). in order Advanced Matrices (Raven. 1992). Thus.g. religiosity negative influence of electromagnetic radiation”. 2015) showed that about 30% members of the Polish society considered the hypothesis of assassination of Open-mindedness cognitive style questionnaires Lech Kaczynski plausible (among them 8% were convinced The first questionnaire measuring open-minded thinking it was true). a twelve-item questionnaire previous data. the course of the session participants completed other tasks ren” and “Crystals possess qualities which protect against (working memory and cognitive control tests. The third test was Number series. etc. categorical thinking. All of this made an excellent context for various task was to find the rule according to which the number accusations and plot hypotheses. respectively. 2011) to result from the pilot’s error as well as the improper organization of the flight.. scores indicated more open-minded. Pseudoscientific Belief Scale We created an 18-item questionnaire to measure pseudo. censorship over information. Sample test items were “Mercury in vaccines may completed via computers at the end of the study session. (CBOS. secret Inventory (Costa & McCrae.

71).72. Discussion Firstly. 2014.31. Thus. distrust. epistemically dubious degrees of freedom should not exceed χ2/df = 2. p < . Thus consistency (Cronbach’s alphas > . Contrary to our expect- Answers on the respective item (“The cause of the ations. normal.74 Conspiracy Generic conpiracist beliefs 0. and. Bentler’s claims and theories. & Baumeister. also replicating similar findings (Lobato et al. 2011). the other kinds of dubious beliefs. Open-minded thinking 0. Plots. to a lesser extent. on a common underlying mindset/worldview. and close-mindedness (the latter shown by the present data). Moreover. the endorsement of the most extreme form of We aimed to test whether conspiracy belief weakens with an conspiracy theory. RMSEA = .017. as compa- seems to be a valid measure of conspiracy belief. and despite Conspiracy scale showed that about 10% (N = 32) of the our large sample the link was not significant. and all of them fitted well the normal distribution (max. including Smolensk cognitive style was a much stronger predictor of conspiracy conspiracy and GCB scales (Cronbach’s alpha = . and the root cognitive factors (e. . Smolensk Conspiracy scale If so.Results cognitive style showed the substantial negative correlation All the measures applied had at least satisfactory internal with Conspiracy Belief and Irrational Beliefs. 5% (N = 16) answered “it is true”.50 Figure 1. Irrational Belief (Paranormal and Pseudo.66 Irrational Pseudoscience 0. Gf predicted only a negligible amount of by facts). traits and thinking dispositions. mean square error of approximation (RMSEA should be less radicalism) that seem to induce the conspiratorial mindset. results showed that it virtually did not. why is conspiracy belief unrelated to Gf. (Rindermann. skew = -0. Swami et al.001. Thus.08). Brotherton & French.84 Belief Paranormal 0. and 4% pseudoscience belief.87 Belief Smolensk conspiracy 0. Correlations between four latent variables in the NEO-openness 0. the negative link between the less likely to believe in pseudoscience). However. it is in line with these studies Smolensk conspiracy in our sample was rather low. Gf (the three reasoning tests). the general tendency to believe in the irrational All factor loadings (see Table 1) showed satisfactory most likely stems primarily from interrelated personality validity of the applied measures. Gf explained catastrophe was an assassination.96 except for the one presented in the dashed line.”) of the Smolensk less than 2% of variance in conspiracy belief. the correlation between the although more intelligent people more frequently hold to Conspiracy Belief and Irrational Belief factors was strong. and (also the Smolensk conspiracy) needn’t be inconsistent with despite our large sample it was not statistically significant the body of scientific knowledge (though are unsupported (p = . tially related to GCB. The fit of the model was good: χ2(21) = 36.01. and and irrational beliefs than Gf. Gf predicted about 9% of variance in paranormal and probably true”). . para- mindedness (NEO-openness and Open-minded Thinking). the support for than in previous studies. Falkenhayn. kurtosis = -0.94. the assassination theory.84 Gf Analogies 0. the open-minded Table 1.92). Although the relationship was weaker (N = 12) answered “it is true for sure”.. science).001. max.78 Numbers 0. 2014). anomie. which reflects 1998): χ2 statistic (its value divided by the number of the tendency to believe in irrational. All correlation are significant at ps < .28. than .047 (90% CI = [..88.981. r = –. p < . There probably are specific social and comparative fit index (CFI should exceed .36 Open-mindedness CFA model. most of conspiracies Conspiracy Belief and Gf was very weak (r = –. CFI = . Factor loadings from the CFA model (all ps < . respectively). and secret organisations variance (2%) in conspiracy belief.13). 2014. On the other participants considered it a possible option (answered “it is hand. The CFA model (Figure 1) correlated four latent variab. such as intuitive thinking Importantly. However. and GCB).0). and Open.82).001.g. proper scientific explanations of facts (what makes them r = .08). but usually they are not the reasonable there was a negative correlation between Gf and Irrational Belief. Thus. The robust relationship between conspiratorial. red to paranormal and pseudoscientific beliefs? First. irrational beliefs shared half of variance with conspiracy les: Conspiracy Belief (loading Smolensk Conspiracy scale belief.074]). except for NEO-openness. as expected. In line with our expectations. increased reasoning ability (Gf). political cynism. and pseudoscientific beliefs suggests that they rely The model fit was assessed with three indices (see Kline. belief in Smolensk conspiracy was substan. However. evil politicians. was examined. undoubtedly exist. 2293 .001) Factor Latent variable Measure loading Raven Matrices 0. In addition.

Thus. comparing to paranormal or pseudoscientific beliefs. Psychological Bulletin. & Jarvis. Craig. Chuderski). Nouripanah. 2012). W... Feinstein. The opinion is Science (the MISTRZ project sponsored to A.. Although some 2294 . Secondly. T. which directs the reasoning theories and susceptibility to the conjunction fallacy.. P. we should notice that conspiracy develop more freely. a high level of reasoning References ability/reflective thinking may actually lead to more motivated reasoning (Kahan. J. 1990. process to conclusions consistent with this worldview. instead well predicted by different values sets/worldviews. motivation: The life and times of individuals varying in More generally. general scientific literacy/numeracy is unrelated to differences in opinion on Acknowledgments global warming risk. 2016). and personality variables that play role in supporting their worldview and prior beliefs. constructs (see Stanovich et al. Conspiracy belief seems to be strongly paranormal or pseudoscientific beliefs. E. 28. endorsing conspiracy theories may be seen as a irrational by definition. J. social. & French. they may let their intuitions about political/social issues On the other hand. intelligent and curious ability. which is a kind of biased reliable sources may be as harmful as unreflective belief in reasoning directed by motivation to arrive at the desired dubious conspiracy theories. skepticism toward official information from seemingly Saunders. but they are prevalence of such complex socio-cultural phenomena as not more inclined to objectively consider counterevidence conspiracy theories. Dispositional differences in cognitive the major cause of the Smolensk catastrophe. by showing ively important the issue. Beliefs in conspiracies. may satisfy the ideological and psychological needs such as However. participants who scored really high on intelligence tests. and thus we do not think the conclusions. M. In context of conspiracy theories. 4. confidence in questionable conspiracy beliefs the loyalty toward ideological groups (Saunders.. our results serve as another example that need for cognition. 4: 225. West.. as did some of our Psychology. our own views – is basically unrelated to intelligence In conclusion. Frontiers in individuals may believe in conspiracies. 637–647. the more subject. as it touches the we think that use of two measures of conspiracy belief basic political and social opinions and values. R.. especially in cases of highly prevent people from believing in conspiracy theories. theories are not homogenous phenomena. that the individual tendency to think in an irrational/ 2016). State. the more strongly motivated the conspiracy belief to be virtually unrelated to reasoning reasoning process becomes. Consequently. State. Similarly. Thus. our results make an important contribution (Stanovich. & Farhart. Moreover. In some cases lack of healthy process of motivated reasoning (Kunda et al. paranormal and pseudoscience) intelligent people may easily suppress their intuitions may be moderately related to intelligence. Haffke.g. Measuring individual differences in be enough to prevent people from endorsing dubious generic beliefs in conspiracy theories across cultures: conspiracy theories.explanations of complex phenomena.. 2013). high intelligence may rather serve this process instead of Bruder... supporting the view theories than the less knowledgeable ones (Saunders et al. conspiracy beliefs. & may be interpreted as irrational. Petty. beliefs. (2014). as is confidence in dubious Farhart. other may be favouring paranormal/unscientific phenomena as being weakly related. Even some highly intelligent Conspiracy Mentality Questionnaire.. intelligence and rationality should be treated as dissociable 197−253. W. Also. engaging issues. To sum up. Neave.. (1999). R. more politically knowledgeable Additionally. regardless of their high ability believed in assassination as (1996). whether an individual embraces Psychology. and are also not Second. as probably is in the case of at least some unlikely and contradicting the general scientific knowledge. and thus leading to Abalakina-Paap. we cannot exclude that the relation between belief in Importantly. this process less ones score on a conspiracy questionnaire the better. 2016). 238–248.. 2013). Also.. 20(03). but Cacioppo. 119. C. L. they provide more evidence for the strong individuals may be even more likely to embrace conspiracy conspiracy-irrationality relationship. 2013). and Applied Cognitive Psychology. & Gregory. R. Stephan. but is related to a greater opinion This work was sponsored by the Foundation for Polish polarization on the issue (Kahan et al. C. although providing relevant scientific conspiratorial way may constitute a stable and important information may change people’s opinion on global personality trait/cognitive style. rather than alleviating W. Given the present data as well as numerous other individuals may perform better at finding quality arguments cognitive. N.. Belief in conspiracy prior worldview and mindset. a conspiracy theory may be primarily dependent on his/her Brotherton. N. T. it seems that intelligence alone cannot and alternative perspectives. even though irrationality indices (e. people dealing with different conspiratorial attitudes and beliefs may have stronger motivation to rationalize their conspiracy provides a good measure of general conspiratorial mindset. G. Political their influence.. & Toplak. to the conspiracy and rationality research. warming (Ranney & Clark. at least in some cases. (2013). 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