Conspiracy theorists often have ‘dark’ personality traits

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Whether you’re a flat Earther, a climate denier or an anti-vaxxer, you may have darker personality traits, a new study suggests.

A psychologist at the University of Oregon has a tendency to believe in conspiracy theories associated with what is known in psychology as Dark Tetrad.

Dark Tetrad encompasses four ‘dark’ personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism.

Characteristics of Dark Tetrad can be linked to believing in conspiracy theories, not because of characteristics unique to each of the characteristics, but because of characteristics shared by the characteristics, the study said.

Believing in a flat earth is suggestive of having the Dark Tetrad traits - narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy and sadism

Believing in a flat earth is suggestive of having the Dark Tetrad traits – narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy and sadism

The research was conducted by Cameron S Kay, a researcher in the psychology department at the University of Oregon, who used five “mediators” to explain the link between believing in conspiracy theories and having a dark personality.

“Conspiracy theories may seem relatively harmless at first glance, but they have been associated with dire consequences in the real world,” he said.

Exposure to and belief in conspiracy theories has been linked to anti-Semitic beliefs, fear of vaccines, less motivation to vote and less inclined to stop climate change.

“To develop interventions to combat these beliefs, it is critical to understand not only what kinds of people are attracted to these theories, but also why they are attracted to these theories.”

Anti-vax conspiracy theorists attend a rally in New York City on March 20, 2021 with signs reading

Anti-vax conspiracy theorists attend a rally in New York City on March 20, 2021 with signs reading “Arrest Bill Gates” and “They’re lying to you.” Conspiracy theories may have been linked to serious real-world consequences, for example by prolonging the current pandemic

It is already known that scoring high on certain aspects of the Dark Tetrad is more likely to believe in conspiracy theories.

Each of the four Dark Tetrad traits – narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism – consists of certain undesirable traits.

Machiavellianism is characterized by manipulation and exploitation of others, a cynical disregard for morality and a focus on self-interest and deceit.

Narcissism is characterized by grandeur, pride, selfishness and a lack of empathy, while psychopathy is characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, impulsiveness, selfishness, callousness and ruthlessness.

Sadism, on the other hand, is characterized by the tendency to be cruel to others for pleasure or dominance.

WHAT IS THE ‘DARK TETRAD’?

Dark Tetrad is an extension of the original dark triad

Dark Tetrad is an extension of the original dark triad

The Dark Tetrad includes the personality traits narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism.

It is an extension of the “dark triad,” a name given to three of its traits: narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism.

When all four traits are found in one person, it implies an evil personality.

All four dark triad properties are conceptually different, but they have been shown to overlap.

Narcissism is characterized by grandeur, pride, selfishness and a lack of empathy.

Machiavellianism is characterized by manipulation and exploitation of others. It is also often associated with a cynical disregard for morality and a focus on self-interest and deceit.

Psychopathy is characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, impulsiveness, selfishness, callousness, and ruthlessness.

Whereas sadism is the tendency to derive pleasure, especially sexual satisfaction, from inflicting pain, suffering or humiliation on others.

It can range from physical sadism (e.g., “I like to physically hurt people,” verbal sadism (e.g., “I like to joke at the expense of others”) and vicarious sadism (e.g., “in video games i like the realistic blood spatter’)

For his study, Kay recruited 474 students with an average age of 19.5 – 66 percent of whom were women.

All participants filled out scales and questionnaires to rate their “conspiracy thinking” — tendency to believe in conspiracy theories — and the prevalence of the Dark Tetrad traits.

But Kay also recorded levels of five “mediators”—the tendency to harbor strange beliefs, to be fatalistic, to desire control, to distrust others, and to feel the need to be unique.

In essence, these mediators can explain the connections between the properties of the Dark Tetrad and conspiracy thoughts.

For example, being fatalistic (ie having little control over one’s own life), wanting control, and mistrusting others should mediate the link between Machiavellian beliefs and conspiracy thoughts.

Previous studies have often focused on a single mediator, making it impossible to compare the ability of different mediators to explain the relationship between the Dark Tetrad traits and conspiracy thoughts, Kay said.

Overall, the results showed that aspects of all four properties of the Dark Tetrad are associated with conspiracy thoughts.

In addition, almost all associations were due to the tendency of people with aversive personalities to hold strange or unusual beliefs, to be fatalistic, and to mistrust others (three out of five mediators).

“Contrary to what the previous literature suggests, it seems that people with aversive personality traits believe in conspiracy theories for the same reasons,” Kay said.

“Conspiracy thoughts, therefore, may arise from some shared characteristic of these traits rather than one characteristic unique to each trait.”

The study is published in the journal Personality and individual differences.

BELIEVE IN BLACKED THEORIES? YOU ARE PROBABLY A NARCISSIST, RESEARCHERS SAY

People who doubt the moon landings are more selfish and attention-seeking, according to a 2015 study.

Over the course of three online studies, researchers at the University of Kent showed strong links between belief in conspiracy theories and negative psychological traits.

Writing in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, the team explained: “Previous research linked the adoption of conspiracy theories with low self-esteem.”

In the first study, a total of 202 participants completed questionnaires about conspiracy beliefs, asking how strongly they agreed with specific statements, such as whether governments have carried out terrorist acts on their own territory.

In addition, they were asked to complete a narcissistic scale and measure self-esteem.

The results showed that those people who scored high on the narcissism scale and who had low self-esteem were more likely to be conspiracy believers.

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