The dark side of meaning-making: How social exclusion leads to superstitious thinking

Damaris Graeupner, Alin Coman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


This paper tests a meaning-making model of conspiratorial thinking by considering how one's search for meaning mediates between social exclusion and the endorsement of conspiratorial (Study 1) and superstitious (Study 2) beliefs. In Study 1, participants first wrote about a self-selected personal event that involved a social interaction, they then indicated how socially excluded they felt after the event, and, finally, they rated their endorsement of three well-known conspiracy theories. In Study 2, participants were randomly assigned to a Social Inclusion, a Social Exclusion, or a Control condition, after which they indicated the association between improbable events in three scenarios. In addition, both studies mechanistically tested the relation between social exclusion and conspiratorial/superstitious thinking by measuring the participants’ tendency to search for meaning. Both Study 1 (correlational) and Study 2 (experimental) offer support for the hypothesis that social exclusion is associated with superstitious/conspiratorial beliefs. One's search for meaning, correlational analyses revealed, mediated this relation. We discuss the implication of the findings for community-wide belief dynamics and we propose that social inclusion could be used to diminish the dissemination of superstitious beliefs and conspiracy theories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)218-222
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Conspiracy theories
  • Meaning search
  • Social exclusion
  • Superstitious beliefs


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