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What's the harm? The consequences of conspiracy theories

Public concern is increasingly focused on the spread of conspiracy theories and their subsequent harms. In our work, we highlight that whereas individual motives may drive people to adopt conspiracy beliefs, these beliefs do not reliably satisfy these motives, and at times may ironically have perverse effects. We find that across a diversity of disciplines the downstream attitudinal, cognitive, and behavioral effects of conspiracy beliefs are predominantly, but not always, negative. We organize research on effective interventions in an elegant and parsimonious typology based on when people may be exposed to conspiracy theories. In our future directions section, we offer avenues for prospective research, and suggest that the current focus on factual disconfirmation of these beliefs is not enough, and that we should consider identity and social contexts as key levers in the battle against the pernicious effects of conspiracy beliefs.

Benjamin Dow
Washington University in St. Louis, Olin School of Business
United States

Amber Johnson
Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management
United States

Jennifer Whitson
University of California Los Angeles, Management and Organizations
United States

Cynthia Shih-Chia Wang
Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management, Dispute Resolution Research Center and Management and Organization
United States


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