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Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Maybe a free thinker but not a critical one: High conspiracy belief is associated with low critical thinking ability

Lantian, A., Bagneux, V., DelouvĂ©e, S., 
& Gauvrit, N. (2020, February 7). 
Applied Cognitive Psychology


Critical thinking is of paramount importance in our society. People regularly assume that critical thinking is a way to reduce conspiracy belief, although the relationship between critical thinking and conspiracy belief has never been tested. We conducted two studies (Study 1, N = 86; Study 2, N = 252), in which we found that critical thinking ability—measured by an open-ended test emphasizing several areas of critical thinking ability in the context of argumentation—is negatively associated with belief in conspiracy theories. Additionally, we did not find a significant relationship between self-reported (subjective) critical thinking ability and conspiracy belief. Our results support the idea that conspiracy believers have less developed critical thinking ability and stimulate discussion about the possibility of reducing conspiracy beliefs via the development of critical thinking.

From the General Discussion

The presumed role of critical thinking in belief in conspiracy theories is continuously discussed by researchers, journalists, and by lay people on social networks. One example is the capacity to exercise critical thinking ability to distinguish bogus conspiracy theories from genuine conspiracy theories (Bale, 2007), leading us to question when critical thinking ability could be used to support this adaptive function. Sometimes, it is not unreasonable to think that a form of rationality would help to facilitate the detection of dangerous coalitions (van Prooijen & Van Vugt, 2018). In that respect, Stojanov and Halberstadt (2019) recently introduced a distinction between irrational versus rational suspicion. Although the former focuses on the general tendency to believe in any conspiracy theories, the later focus on higher sensitivity to deception or corruption, which is defined as“healthy skepticism.” These two aspects of suspicion can now be handled simultaneously thanks to a new scale developed by Stojanov and Halberstadt (2019). In our study, we found that critical thinking ability was associated with lower unfounded belief in conspiracy theories, but this does not answer the question as to whether critical thinking ability can be helpful for the detection of true conspiracies. Future studies could use this new measurement to address this specific question.