Fear, Control and Conspiracy: An Examination of Causes and Consequences of Conspiracy Theory Beliefs

Project summary

The overall aim of this PhD is to examine the causes and consequences of conspiracy theory beliefs, with a particular focus on elements of fear and control.

The key objectives are: 

Conspiracy theory beliefs may be defined as beliefs that “events and power relations are secretly manipulated by certain clandestine groups and organisations”  (Grimes, 2016, p. 1). Such beliefs are widely known about and endorsed (Oliver & Wood, 2014) and, while some may be relatively benign, others have the potential to cause considerable harm, such as beliefs that the Covid-19 pandemic is a hoax or otherwise exaggerated (Bierwiaczonek et al., 2020).

Research has identified a number of explanations for the endorsement of such beliefs, but many of these relate to the key element of control; beliefs are higher in those with an external locus of control (Abalakina-Paap et al., 1999), those who lack control (Whitson & Galinsky, 2008), and those who desire control (Bukowski et al., 2017).

The proposed PhD project therefore aims to further examine this element of control, alongside other pertinent variables (including the related but relatively under-studied variable of fear), to gain a fuller understanding of the causes and consequences of conspiracy theory beliefs.

The successful candidate will have the opportunity to shape the programme of research with regard to their particular interests, but it is anticipated that the project may use a mixed methods approach. For example, quantitative analyses of psychometric-scale responses may be combined with qualitative analyses of interview data in which individuals discuss their reasons for their beliefs.

Ultimately, the aim of the project is to provide greater understanding of endorsement of conspiracy theories and therefore allow an assessment of the potential for changing inaccurate and harmful beliefs.

Research centre

Health and Social Care Research Centre

Entry requirements

Applicants will need either a first-class or upper-second-class honours degree accredited by the British Psychological Society in Psychology or a related subject area.

International students may also need to meet our English language requirements. Find out more about our entry requirements for international students

Project specific requirements must align with the University’s standard requirements.

How to apply

Please contact Dr Ben Roberts (b.roberts@derby.ac.uk) in the first instance for more information on how to apply.

The University has four starting points each year for MPhil/PhD programmes (September, January, March and June). Applications should be made at least three months before you would want to start your programme. Please note that, if you require a visa, additional time will be required. 


Self-funded by student. There is a range of options that may be available to you to help you fund your PhD.