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Paranoia and belief in conspiracy theories both involve suspiciousness about the intentions of others but have rarely been studied together. In three studies, one with a mainly student sample (N = 496) and two with more representative UK population samples (N = 1,519, N = 638) we compared single and two-factor models of paranoia and conspiracy theories as well as associations between both belief systems and other psychological constructs. A model with two correlated factors was the best fit in all studies. Both belief systems were associated with poor locus of control (belief in powerful others and chance) and loneliness. Paranoid beliefs were specifically associated with negative self-esteem and, in two studies, insecure attachment; conspiracy theories were associated with positive self-esteem in the two larger studies and narcissistic personality traits in the final study. Conspiracist thinking but not paranoia was associated with poor performance on the Cognitive Reflection Task (poor analytical thinking). The findings suggest that paranoia and belief in conspiracy theories are distinct but correlated belief systems with both common and specific psychological components.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

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