2022-05-24 07:51:17

Conspiracy theories, collective narcissism – what do they have in common?

Conspiracy theories, collective narcissism – what do they have in common?

Paweł Ciesielski, Agnieszka Golec de Zavala

This blog is a summary of an article that will be published in the Current Opinion in Psychology Journal. The preprint is available here: https://psyarxiv.com/2rku3

 Golec de Zavala, A., Bierwiaczonek, K., Ciesielski, P. (2023) An interpretation of meta-analytical evidence for the link between collective narcissism  and conspiracy theories. Current Opinion in Psychology. In press.

            Conspiracy theories may seem entertaining as any fantastic narration but they are also dangerous. They disregard logic and evidence [1,2]. Not only they are false but their omnipresence and persistence suggest that they are somehow equal alternative explanations of the same facts such as global warming, COVID-19 pandemic, vaccines or terrorist attacks). As such they undermine science, expertise and reason. They inhibit our reaction to some problems (like stopping us from using face masks during the pandemic) or result in some destructive action (like storming the capitol in US in 2021).

            Collective narcissism is a robust predictor of conspiracy theories. Collective narcissism a belief that our ingroup’s (for example Poles, Catholics, Men) exaggerated greatness is not recognized enough by others [3,4]. Just as conspiracy theories, collective narcissism is also delusional in its assumptions that the ingroup is entitled to special recognition and privileged treatment. 

After a thorough literature search, we have found 20 articles with 33 studies that measured both collective narcissism and a belief in some sort of a conspiracy theory. The metanalysis we conducted indicates that these two phenomena  are quite highly correlated. What was also interesting was that the correlation differed between the content of the conspiracy theory. Theories that proposed dangerous plotting of an out- group (e.g. Jews) were linked to collective narcissism, especially national.  the most strongly. The second strongest association was with theories that described some mysterious others who plot to harm us (e.g. an elite that was responsible for COVID-19 pandemic). The least strong(but still significantly) was the correlation between collective narcisisssm and generic conspiracy thinking (a predisposition to believe in conspiracy theories, or belief in some of the more popular theories, such as that Princess Diana was assassinated). The differences between the relation of these types of conspiracy theories and collective narcissism are available in figure 1.

Figure 1

Correlation of conspiracy theories with collective narcissism

            We proposed the following explanation: The link between collective narcissism and conspiracy theories concerning some evil outgroups is  the strongest because it provides an explanation for the ingroups insufficient recognition. For example: Poles are not recognized enough internationally? – we are specifically targeted by Jews who undermine us! It’s not our fault!

            But this does not explain why a belief that my exceptional group is not sufficiently recognised by others is connected to belief that AIDS was created in a lab. Here, we propose a different mechanism. The collective narcissism can cause anxiety, uncertainty, threat etc [6,7]. because at the same time a person 1) believes that their group is great and 2) that it is not recognised by others. This results in an adverse state that leads to looking for cognitive closure [3] and resulting in general gullibility [8] (it becomes more important to have any explanation, than a truthful one). This in turn opens door for conspiracy theories of any kind which provide comfort by explaining events that are hard to explain otherwise.

            And finally we propose that collective narcissism and conspiracy theories are linked because they are both used to support dictatorial governance [9,10]. Collective narcissism and conspiracy theories can both provide an excuse for coercing others for the glory of the ingroup which must be defended from the malevolent outgroup. This however leads to a sad consequence, which is a discrimination of an outgroup, especially one which is in some way disadvantaged.

            Conspiracy theories may seem entertaining but we should not forget that they serve to forge and propagate an understanding of reality that leads to authoritarianism, prejudice and rejection of truth.

Table 1

Conspiracy theories associated with collective narcissism grouped by the content


Examples (for details see Supplemental Materials)

Specific Outgroup:

Conspiracy theories attributing malevolent intentions and secretive actions to specific outgroup


Those conspiracy theories were assessed as mediators predicting prejudice and discrimination of the targeted outgroups or the rejection of the foreign aid to the ingroup from the targeted outgroup

- Immigrants in France conspiring with ISIS and other terrorist groups to take over Europe

- Immigrants in France conspire with the European Union to destroy French culture and to destroy French economy

- Russians conspired to bring down the plane that crashed near Smolensk and killed the Polish president and over 90 polish officials

- Jews conspire to take control over the world and the government in Poland

- ‘Gender ideology/studies/activism’ are a liberal conspiracy to undermine the Catholic Church

- Chinese institutions and companies conspire against the US/ American institutions and companies conspire against China

– China conspired to produce the COVID19 pandemic to undermine the Western world

-2004 tsunami in Indonesia was caused by US and Israel conspiracy, Lapindo Mud Disaster in Indonesia was caused by the conspiracy between the government and the British

Explanations of other salient threats:

Miscellaneous theories regarding various threats orchestrated by unspecified powerful ‘others’ with intention to control ‘us’ or ‘the people’



Those conspiracy theories were assessed as mediators predicting specific actions in accordance to the content of the theory: climate change denial, refusal of vaccination; refusal to follow health and safety measures to contain COVID-19 pandemic

- Malevolent unspecified outgroup plots to spread the Zika disease

- Scientific findings regarding climate change are fabricated by people who have something to gain

- A small group of people and corrupt elites hide dangers of vaccines or modify vaccines to monitor members of the ingroup

-COVID-19 pandemic is a result of deliberate action of a small powerful group working in secret to profit from the pandemic

-COVID-19 does not exist, the information about the threat of the pandemic is spread by a malevolent group to manipulate others

- A malevolent, secretive group (such as “big pharma”) benefits from vaccines that are harmful and allow for human control (e.g. via microchips)

Generic conspiracy thinking


This generic predisposition was shown to increase in time as a function of collective narcissism and predict

- A predisposition to believe that ‘our’ lives are controlled by a small group of people who work in secret to control things, run the country and are against ‘us’[5]

- A predisposition to engage in ‘conspiracist ideation’ about malevolent actions of government, extraterrestrial cover-up and malevolent global conspiracies [2]

- Beliefs in a series of well-known conspiracy theories that climate change is a fake, Princess Diana was assassinated, AIDS was created by humans in a lab, 9/11 was a governmental plot, moon landing was fake, governments hide evidence about extraterrestials visiting to the Earth, CIA was involved in Kennedy’s assassination[8]





[1]** van Prooijen J-W: Injustice Without Evidence: The Unique Role of Conspiracy Theories in Social Justice Research. Soc Just Res 2021, 35:88-106, doi:10.1007/s11211-021-00376-x.

[2]* Golec de Zavala A: Why is populism so robustly associated with conspirational thinking? Collective narcissism and the Meaning Maintenance Model. In The psychology of political behavior in a time of change: Identity in a changing world. Edited by Sinnott J, Rabin J. Springer Nature Switzerland; 2020:277–290.

[3] Golec de Zavala A, Dyduch‐Hazar K, Lantos D: Collective Narcissism: Political Consequences of Investing Self‐Worth in the Ingroup’s Image. Political Psychology 2019, 40:37–74.

[4] ** Golec de Zavala A, Lantos D: Collective Narcissism and Its Social Consequences: The Bad and the Ugly. Curr Dir Psychol Sci 2020, 29:273–278, doi: 10.1177/0963721420917703.

[5] Uscinski JE, Klofstad C, Atkinson MD: What Drives Conspiratorial Beliefs? The Role of Informational Cues and Predispositions. Political Research Quarterly 2016, 69:57–71, doi: 10.1177/1065912915621621.

[6]  Heine SJ, Proulx T, Vohs KD: The Meaning Maintenance Model: On the Coherence of Social Motivations. Pers Soc Psychol Rev 2006, 10:88–110, doi: 10.1207/s15327957pspr1002_1.

[7] Proulx T, Inzlicht M: The Five “A”s of Meaning Maintenance: Finding Meaning in the Theories of Sense-Making. Psychological Inquiry 2012, 23:317–335, doi:10.1080/1047840X.2012.702372.

[8] Sternisko A, Cichocka A, Cislak A, Van Bavel JJ. National Narcissism predicts the Belief in and the Dissemination of Conspiracy Theories During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Evidence From 56 CountriesPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 2021. doi:10.1177/01461672211054947

[9] van Prooijen J-W: Populism as political mentality underlying conspiracy theories. In Belief Systems and the Perception of Reality. Edited by Rutjens BT, Brandt MJ. Routledge; 2018:79–96.

[10]  Imhoff R, Zimmer F, Klein O, António JHC, Babinska M, Bangerter A, Bilewicz M, Blanuša N, Bovan K, Bužarovska R, et al.: Conspiracy mentality and political orientation across 26 countries. Nat Hum Behav 2022, 6:392–403, doi:10.1038/s41562-021-01258-7.


Paweł Ciesielski
Paweł Ciesielski
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