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Workplace Bullies May Help Produce Conspiracy Theorists: Study
  • Posted October 31, 2022

Workplace Bullies May Help Produce Conspiracy Theorists: Study

Conspiracy theories have abounded during the COVID-19 pandemic and in American politics in recent years.

Now, researchers overseas say they have identified a link between being bullied in the workplace and developing conspiracy theories, which they define as "explanations for important events that involve secret plots by powerful and malevolent groups."

Both are associated with similar psychological factors, including feelings of paranoia, according to researchers at the University of Nottingham in the U.K. and Paris Nanterre University in France.

“Bullying experiences can significantly impact the victim in numerous ways, with the development of conspiracy beliefs being another detrimental consequence," said lead author Daniel Jolley, an assistant professor of social psychology at the University of Nottingham. "We believe victims of bullying may find conspiracy theories appealing because bullying experiences frustrate the exact psychological factors, such as disempowerment, that are a route to developing conspiracy beliefs.”

To study this, his team measured 273 people's experiences of a range of negative acts. Not only was workplace bullying associated with conspiracy theories, victims were also more likely to report increased feelings of paranoia. These feelings are associated with a higher endorsement of conspiracy beliefs, researchers said.

In a second study, 206 participants were asked to imagine one of two scenarios. One was being bullied in the workplace. The other was receiving positive support at work. The finding: Participants who imagined a bullying environment also reported an increased belief in conspiracy theories.

“We saw during the COVID-19 pandemic how conspiracy theories could take hold and spiral, with many circulating and gaining traction, particularly around vaccinations,” Jolley said. “Our work shows how conspiracy beliefs can mobilize people in ways detrimental to a smooth-running society.”

Previous research has shown that life experience can increase susceptibility to conspiracy theories and that hostile workplace experiences could be linked to the development of conspiracy beliefs.

“This is why understanding how conspiracy beliefs form is essential,” Jolley said. “If we can get to the root of what factors influence them, we can develop ways to tackle this. We recommend that the next steps are to develop tools to support victims to try and avert the link between being bullied and conspiracy theorizing emerging.”

The findings were published online Oct. 27 in the journal Social Psychology.

More information

Stopbullying.gov tips for preventing and coping with bullying.

SOURCE: University of Nottingham, news release, Oct. 26, 2022

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