Collective Narcissism and Belief in Conspiracy Theories: Making the Connection
Do you believe the moon landing was faked? Was 9/11 a part of a vast conspiracy? Was the COVID pandemic a master plot to control the population? If you don't chances are you know someone who believes in one or more of these conspiracy theories, as well as a bunch of other ones.
Conspiracy theories, despite their seemingly far-fetched narratives, tend to take on a life of their own in some groups. What psychological factors make these theories so enticing to certain individuals or groups? One significant element in this complex dynamic is a concept known as collective narcissism, a phenomenon more pronounced in certain groups. Let's explore the link between collective narcissism and belief in conspiracy theories. We should begin by a quick explanation of collective narcissism.
Understanding Collective Narcissism
Collective narcissism is a socio-psychological concept that refers to a highly inflated sense that one's group is much more important and more right than others, where individuals harbor an exaggerated view of their in-group's importance and a belief in its superiority over other groups. This perspective often leads to sensitivity about the group's status and reputation, and any perceived slight or threat can trigger defensive, angry, and even retaliatory responses. In my book, "How White Evangelicals Think," my central argument is that evangelicalism has become infected with collective narcissism, which explains much of why they think and act as they do, often in ways that are counter to traditional understandings of how Christians should conduct themselves. Research tells us that white evangelicals are more prone to belief in conspiracy theories than most other groups. Let's look at the link between these two concepts of collective narcissism and belief in conspiracy theories.
Collective Narcissism and Conspiracy Theories: The Connection
Conspiracy theories typically propose that a covert, influential group is orchestrating harmful events or hiding critical information from the public with the intention to either do harm to others or benefit themselves--or both. Paradoxically, such narratives can be attractive to individuals with high levels of collective narcissism. But how does this connection work?
Seeking External Validation
Collective narcissism tends to lead to a perpetual search for validation and recognition from others, in an effort to affirm the group's perceived superiority. When this recognition is not forthcoming or when the group faces criticism, individuals may turn to conspiracy theories that place their group as the victim of nefarious plots by out-groups. This narrative validates their perception that their group deserves better treatment and is being unjustly targeted.
Collective narcissists are often hyper-vigilant to perceived threats or challenges to their in-group's status. Conspiracy theories, which typically involve powerful out-groups plotting against others, fit neatly into this worldview. They can reinforce collective narcissists' beliefs that their group is under constant threat from external forces.
Assertion of Superiority
Believing in conspiracy theories can also provide collective narcissists with a sense of superiority. By being privy to 'hidden knowledge' that others are oblivious to, they feel more enlightened and intelligent, further feeding their collective narcissism.
Belief in a Cosmic Battle Between Good & Evil
White evangelicals, in particular, are already primed to see the world through the lens of a massive spiritual battle between God and demonic spiritual forces, hidden from human view, except to those who have "eyes to see and ears to hear." Conspiracy theories fit well within this framework because they check all the boxes of evil people and organizations who are scheming against us while lurking in the shadows.
Understanding the link between collective narcissism and belief in conspiracy theories is not merely an academic exercise. It has significant practical implications, especially in our era of social media and "fake news," where misinformation can spread widely and evolve rapidly.
Collective narcissism provides a compelling lens to understand why certain groups or individuals, including many white evangelicals, might be more prone to believing in conspiracy theories. By recognizing this connection, we can take a significant step toward promoting healthier social dynamics and countering the spread of potentially harmful conspiracy theories.