Researchers at Princeton University have found that people who are socially excluded tend to believe in conspiratorial thinking, specifically fake news in today's world.
"Those who are excluded may begin to wonder why they're excluded in the first place, causing them to seek meaning in their lives," says psychologist Alin Coman.
Researchers found that the feelings of despair brought on by social exclusion can cause individuals to seek meaning in stories, which may not necessarily be true. For these people, the search for meaning that comes along with feeling excluded is what causes a stronger belief in tall tales and conspiracy theories.
The study was split into two parts. At first, 119 volunteers were assessed online about their feelings of social isolation. They were asked to fill in a questionnaire about their emotions and goals and write a story involving a close friend. They were even asked to rate their feelings in 14 different categories (including exclusion).
The same participants were asked how strongly they endorsed three popular conspiracy theories - pharmaceutical companies withholding cures for financial gains; governments using subliminal messages to influence the population; and paranormal activity in the Bermuda Triangle.
Study results showed that those who responded to feeling more socially excluded were also more likely to agree with the conspiracy theories.
In the second part, another 120 university students were asked to write about themselves before being told that their writing would be used to assess their suitability for a task. Half of these participants were put under a "chosen" group, while others were put in a "non-chosen" group. The researchers did not reveal that their writing was not assessed at all and that the participants were randomly assigned to groups before the experiment.
All of these students were the asked to rate the same stories as the first group - but this time based on superstition rather conspiracy. Once again, those in the "non-chosen" ended up believing these stories compared to the others.
The study is published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.