The dark side of social movements: social identity, non-conformity, and the lure of conspiracy theories

Curr Opin Psychol. 2020 Oct:35:1-6. doi: 10.1016/j.copsyc.2020.02.007. Epub 2020 Feb 21.


Social change does not always equal social progress-there is a dark side of social movements. We discuss conspiracy theory beliefs - beliefs that a powerful group of people are secretly working towards a malicious goal - as one contributor to destructive social movements. Research has linked conspiracy theory beliefs to anti-democratic attitudes, prejudice and non-normative political behavior. We propose a framework to understand the motivational processes behind conspiracy theories and associated social identities and collective action. We argue that conspiracy theories comprise at least two components - content and qualities-that appeal to people differently based on their motivations. Social identity motives draw people foremost to contents of conspiracy theories while uniqueness motives draw people to qualities of conspiracy theories.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude
  • Group Processes
  • Humans
  • Politics*
  • Prejudice
  • Social Identification*