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February 10, 2021 Wednesday 11:43:09 AM IST

14 could be peak age for believing in conspiracy theories

Belief in conspiracy theories is heightened as adolescents reach 14 years of age, reveals new research involving the University of Glasgow. A study conducted by a team of psychologists from across the UK, including UofG's Dr Yvonne Skipper, has uncovered that belief in conspiracy theories flourishes in teenage years. More specifically, they found that 14 is the age adolescents are most likely to start believing in conspiracy theories, with beliefs remaining constant into early adulthood.

The findings were discovered using the first ever scientific measure of conspiracy beliefs suitable for analysing younger populations. A paper detailing the research has been published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology online today.

Previous research has demonstrated that conspiracy theories can affect people’s beliefs and behaviours in significant ways. For example, they can influence people’s views and decisions on important issues such as climate change and vaccinations.

With around 60% of British people believing in at least one conspiracy theory, understanding their popularity is important.

Despite their significance, however, all existing research on conspiracy theories has been conducted with adults, and research methods used to measure conspiracy beliefs have been designed only with adults in mind. To date, therefore, there has been a lack of knowledge about when and why conspiracy beliefs develop in young people, and how these beliefs change over time.

Now, a timely project funded by the British Academy has developed and validated a conspiracy beliefs questionnaire suitable for young people, called the Adolescent Conspiracy Beliefs Questionnaire (ACBQ). The project was led by Dr Daniel Jolley, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Northumbria University, who worked in collaboration with Professor Karen Douglas (University of Kent), Dr Yvonne Skipper (University of Glasgow), Ms Eleanor Thomas (University of Birmingham), and Ms Darel Cookson (Nottingham Trent University).