Thursday, 27 October 2022
New research has shown that people who experience bullying in the workplace are more likely to engage in conspiracy theorising.
The new research, led by the University of Nottingham and in collaboration with the Paris Nanterre University, built on the idea that experiences of bullying may breed conspiracy beliefs because both are associated with similar psychological factors, such as feelings of paranoia. The results have been published today in Social Psychology.
Conspiracy theories are defined as ‘explanations for important events that involve secret plots by powerful and malevolent groups’ – from scientists and doctors to the boss in the workplace. This new study builds on previous research that has shown life experience can increase susceptibility to conspiracy theories and explores the theory that hostile workplace experiences could be linked to the development of conspiracy beliefs.
Bullying experiences can significantly impact the victim in numerous ways, with the development of conspiracy beliefs being another detrimental consequence. We believe victims of bullying may find conspiracy theories appealing because bullying experiences frustrate the exact psychological factors, such as disempowerment, that are a route to developing conspiracy beliefs.
Two studies were carried out. The first measured 273 people’s experiences of a range of negative acts and demonstrated that experiences of workplace bullying were positively associated with conspiracy beliefs. The results also showed that people who experience workplace bullying were also more likely to report increased feelings of paranoia, which is also associated with a higher endorsement of conspiracy beliefs.
In the second study, 206 participants were asked to either imagine beings bullied in the workplace or being supported positively at work. Those who imagined a bullying environment also reported an increased belief in conspiracy theories.
Dr Jolley continues: “We saw during the COVID-19 pandemic how conspiracy theories could take hold and spiral, with many circulating and gaining traction, particularly around vaccinations. Our work shows how conspiracy beliefs can mobilise people in ways detrimental to a smooth-running society. This is why understanding how conspiracy beliefs form is essential. If we can get to the root of what factors influence them, we can develop ways to tackle this. We recommend that the next steps are to develop tools to support victims to try and avert the link between being bullied and conspiracy theorising emerging.”
More information is available from Dr Daniel Jolley on firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to editors:
The University of Nottingham
Ranked 18th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings 2023, University of Nottingham is a founding member of Russell Group of research-intensive universities. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience, and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement.
The University is among the best universities in the UK for the strength of our research, positioned seventh for research power in the UK according to REF 2021. The birthplace of discoveries such as MRI and ibuprofen, our innovations transform lives and tackle global problems such as sustainable food supplies, ending modern slavery, developing greener transport, and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.The University is a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally - and our graduates are the second most targeted by the UK's top employers, according to The Graduate Market in 2022 report by High Fliers Research.
We lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, in partnership with Nottingham Trent University, a pioneering collaboration between the city’s two world-class institutions to improve levels of prosperity, opportunity, sustainability, health and wellbeing for residents in the city and region we are proud to call home.