Do conspiracy beliefs fuel support for reactionary social movements? Effects of misbeliefs on actions to oppose lockdown and to “stop the steal”

Emma F. Thomas, Lucy Bird, Alexander O'Donnell, Danny Osborne, Eliana Buonaiuto, Lisette Yip, Morgana Lizzio-Wilson, Michael Wenzel, Linda Skitka

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Pundits have speculated that the spread of conspiracies and misinformation (termed “misbeliefs”) is leading to a resurgence of right-wing, reactionary movements. However, the current empirical picture regarding the relationship between misbeliefs and collective action is mixed. We help clarify these associations by using two waves of data collected during the COVID-19 Pandemic (in Australia, N = 519, and the United States, N = 510) and democratic elections (in New Zealand N = 603, and the United States N = 609) to examine the effects of misbeliefs on support for reactionary movements (e.g., anti-lockdown protests, Study 1; anti-election protests, Study 2). Results reveal that within-person changes in misbeliefs correlate positively with support for reactionary collective action both directly (Studies 1–2) and indirectly by shaping the legitimacy of the authority (Study 1b). The relationship between misbelief and legitimacy is, however, conditioned by the stance of the authority in question: the association is positive when authorities endorse misbeliefs (Study 1a) and negative when they do not (Study 1b). Thus, the relationship between conspiracy beliefs and action hinges upon the alignment of the content of the conspiracy and the goals of the collective action.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalBritish Journal of Social Psychology
Early online date5 Feb 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Feb 2024


  • conspiracy
  • legitimacy
  • misinformation
  • reactionary collective action

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