Believing in Hidden Plots is Associated with Decreased Behavioral Trust: Conspiracy Belief as Greater Sensitivity to Social Threat or Insensitivity Towards its Absence?

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Description: Past research has demonstrated that conspiracy belief is linked to a low level of self-reported general trust. In four experimental online studies (total N = 1105) we examined whether this relationship translated into actual behavior. Specifically, since the decision to trust relies on the ability to detect potential social threat, we tested whether conspiracy believers are better at detecting actual threat, worse at detecting the absence of threat, or simply trust less, irrespective of any social cue. To this end, participants played multiple, independent rounds of the trust game, a behavioral measure for interpersonal trust. We manipulated social threat by presenting photographs of their alleged trustees with varying intensity of facial anger. In three of the four studies, trustors’ conspiracy beliefs predicted a more cautious investment behavior in the trust game. This association, however, was not contingent on the social threat posed by the trustee. The present research thus joins a number of studies demonstrating that conspiracy beliefs can – under certain circumstances - influence everyday behavior.

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