Positive Contact with Diverse Groups Can Reduce Belief in Conspiracy Theories About Them

New research has shown that having positive contact with people from diverse groups can reduce the development of harmful intergroup conspiracy beliefs.

Experts from the University of Nottingham’s School of Psychology, in collaboration with the University of East Anglia, found that among British participants, positive intergroup contact interfered with the development of conspiracy theories about other groups. The findings have been published today in the European Journal of Social Psychology.

Social psychologist Dr. Daniel Jolley from the University of Nottingham led the research and explains: “Intergroup conspiracy theories are common and potentially can lead to everything from misinformed voting to extreme expressions of prejudice. Seeking ways to reduce conspiracy theories is of particular importance.”

Three studies were conducted with over 1,000 people, where the team explored whether positive intergroup contact interferes with the development of conspiracy theories about other social groups.

The first two studies explored relationships, where British participants were asked about their experience of contact with immigrants (Study 1) or Jewish people (Study 2) and their belief in conspiracy theories in relation to them. In the third study, participants were asked to think about a positive contact experience with a Jewish person and then report their conspiracy beliefs held about this group. Participants also reported their feelings (prejudice) towards the target group in each study.

The research demonstrated that those people who had experienced higher quality positive contact with Jewish people or immigrants or imagined a positive contact experience were less likely to believe conspiracy theories about them. Importantly, these effects remained even when accounting for (negative) feelings towards the target group, demonstrating that the effect is not merely another prejudice reduction effect.

Dr. Jolley explains: “The research findings offer a promising potential starting point for developing tools to bring diverse groups of people together who may not usually have contact and try to foster positive conversations to help reduce potentially harmful conspiracy theories from taking hold.

“Whilst the problems are often very complex, and positive contact will not solve all the issues surrounding conspiracy theories towards certain groups, the fact that this work offers a potential tool to reduce intergroup conspiracy theories is a notable breakthrough. Our work offers a framework that, along with future research, might lead to the reduction of conspiracy beliefs in the general population”.

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