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Beliefs in Conspiracy Theories Following Ostracism

Funded by Early Career Scheme, Research Grants Council of Hong Kong


Ostracism means being rejected or ignored. Given the prevalence and negativity of ostracism, it has aroused considerable interest among researchers seeking to examine its potential impacts. While the literature has accumulated substantial understanding about the impacts of ostracism, current knowledge is still very limited. Prior studies have mainly focused on how ostracism influences emotions, relationship satisfaction, self-regulation, and behaviors, whereas relatively little research has examined how ostracized people comprehend ambiguous but potentially threatening social events in the environment.

Conspiracy beliefs may provide a way for ostracized people to quickly make sense of different social events in daily life, but at the expense of accuracy. When people are ostracized or socially excluded, they perceive themselves as vulnerable because they cannot obtain the benefits associated with harmonious social relationships. Such feelings of vulnerability motivate ostracized people to closely monitor social environments in order to promptly detect and avoid potential dangers.

We propose that when ostracized people encounter ambiguous events, they may tend to endorse conspiracy beliefs because they need to quickly comprehend the causes of these events to decide whether there are potential dangers and because false alarms are often less costly than failing to recognize threatening situations.


Further, when ostracized people’s feelings of vulnerability are reduced through interventions, they should no longer believe in conspiracy theories. A series of studies will be conducted to test when and why ostracism promotes conspiracy beliefs, and to examine how to weaken the effect of ostracism on conspiracy beliefs.


The present investigation aimed to fill this knowledge gap by testing the following objectives:

1.   Test whether ostracism increases people’s tendency to endorse conspiracy beliefs;

2.   Investigate whether feelings of vulnerability account for the effect of ostracism on conspiracy beliefs;

3.   Test whether reducing ostracized people’s feelings of vulnerability through interventions can weaken the effect of ostracism on conspiracy beliefs;

4.   Examine whether the effect of ostracism on conspiracy beliefs is moderated by the context in which the conspiracy beliefs evolve.

Major Findings

  • Ostracism increases conspiracy beliefs through increased vulnerability

  • Vulnerability still significantly mediated the link between ostracism and conspiracy beliefs after controlling for the effects of negative mood

  • Self-affirmation exercises effectively weakened the effect of ostracism on conspiracy beliefs

  • The negative impacts of ostracism can be moderated by people’s dispositional characteristics, such that people with high trait mindfulness were less susceptible to the negative influences of ostracism

  • The negative impacts of ostracism can be ameliorated by various contextual factors and situational interventions, such as nature exposure, importance of following social rules, and perceived costs of their decisions

This research revealed that ostracism makes people become vulnerable, thereby increasing their tendency to endorse conspiracy theories. It also found that self-affirmation can effectively weaken the effect of ostracism on conspiracy beliefs. Altogether, these findings carry both practical and theoretical implications for the role of vulnerability in influencing various responses following ostracism and the use of self-affirmation in ameliorating the detrimental effects of ostracism. This research also advances existing theories and provides novel insights into the development of intervention programs that enable people to better cope with the negative impacts of ostracism and related forms of interpersonal maltreatment.

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