Who Believes in Conspiracy Theories? A Meta-Analysis on Personality Traits

Who Believes in Conspiracy Theories? A Meta-Analysis on Personality Traits

4 min read

Jonas Enge
Jonas Enge@maccyber

Conspiracy theories are widespread and can have significant social impacts, making it crucial to understand who is likely to believe in them. This study examines the relationship between belief in conspiracy theories and 12 personality traits, using data from 686 correlations across 127 samples. The findings show that people who believe in pseudoscience, experience paranoia or schizotypy, are narcissistic, religious/spiritual, and have lower cognitive ability are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories. The study also explores the variability in these relationships and suggests implications for developing targeted interventions.


Conspiracy theories, such as those about 9/11 or COVID-19, are common and can cause harm, like fostering prejudice or undermining public health. Understanding why some people are more inclined to believe in these theories is essential for reducing their negative effects. This study provides an overview of the personality traits linked to conspiracy beliefs and examines reasons for differences in findings through moderator analyses.

A well-established finding is that beliefs in contradictory conspiracy theories (e.g., Princess Diana was murdered vs. faked her own death) are positively correlated. This is commonly interpreted as evidence that people systematically believe blatant inconsistencies. However, recent research proposes a compelling alternative explanation: Disbelieving both conspiracy theories also yields a positive correlation.

In four preregistered studies (total N = 7,641 adults), participants evaluated 28 sets of contradictory conspiracy theories. While the positive correlation was replicated, this was mostly due to participants who believed the official versions of these events (e.g., Princess Diana died in a car accident). Among participants who disbelieved these official stories, the correlation was inconsistent at best. A mini meta-analysis revealed a negative correlation among these participants, particularly due to the dead-or-alive cases. This suggests that researchers should reconsider the notion of systematic belief in contradictory conspiracy theories.


Conspiracy theories involve secret collaborations that aim to benefit some at the expense of others, often kept hidden due to their illegality or immorality. Historical examples, like the CIA's mind control program, make these beliefs seem plausible. From an evolutionary perspective, being suspicious of outgroups might have been protective, explaining why some people are prone to conspiracy beliefs today.

Personality Traits Linked to Conspiracy Beliefs

  • Cognitive Abilities: Higher cognitive abilities, such as reasoning and verbal skills, may help people critically assess conspiracy theories. However, studies show mixed results regarding this relationship.
  • Narcissism: Narcissistic individuals, who have traits like grandiosity and a desire for attention, are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories because they may not question their own beliefs.
  • Paranoid Ideation: People who are suspicious and think others have bad intentions often believe in conspiracy theories. This trait is strongly linked to conspiracy beliefs.
  • Pseudoscientific Beliefs: Those who believe in pseudoscience are also likely to believe in conspiracy theories, possibly due to a general tendency to see patterns that don’t exist.
  • Religiosity/Spirituality: Both religious and conspiracy beliefs can arise from trying to make sense of challenging events. Some studies find a positive link, while others do not.
  • Schizotypy: This trait includes odd beliefs and behaviors, along with paranoid tendencies, which helps explain its strong connection to conspiracy beliefs.
  • Self-Esteem: The relationship between self-esteem and conspiracy beliefs is complex, with both positive and negative correlations reported in different studies.
  • Big Five Personality Traits: Previous studies show weak relationships between the Big Five traits (neuroticism, extraversion, openness, conscientiousness, and agreeableness) and conspiracy beliefs, but this study provides updated insights.


The meta-analysis included studies that looked at the relationship between conspiracy beliefs and specified personality traits, with data available in English, German, Swedish, or Polish. A comprehensive search in databases like PsycINFO, Web of Science, and Google Scholar found 87 relevant reports, resulting in 686 effect sizes from 127 independent samples.


The study found varying degrees of connection between conspiracy beliefs and different personality traits:

  • Strongest links: Pseudoscientific beliefs (r = .46), paranoia (r = .34), schizotypy (r = .30), and narcissism (r = .28).
  • Weaker links: Religiosity (r = .14) and cognitive ability (r = -.13).
  • Weakest links: Big Five traits and self-esteem (-.07 ≤ r ≤ .04).

The study also found that factors like the type of conspiracy measure, cultural differences, and how religiosity/spirituality is assessed can explain some of the variability in these relationships.


This meta-analysis shows which personality traits are most strongly linked to belief in conspiracy theories. These findings can help in creating interventions to reduce the negative impacts of conspiracy beliefs. Future research should continue to explore these relationships and understand why there are differences in findings across studies.


conspiracy theories
personality traits
pseudoscientific beliefs
cognitive ability
Big Five personality traits
belief in conspiracy theories
psychological research
intervention strategies
social impacts of conspiracy theories
personality psychology