How ‘national narcissism’ makes people more likely to believe in conspiracy theories
Believing that you are part of a nation that is superior to all and deserves special treatment, this is what “national narcissism” looks like. National narcissism is one of many forms of “collective narcissismwhere an individual or group of people takes an exaggerated, often defensive view of the group and seeks external validation for the same.
This delusion of unprecedented magnitude makes people even more vulnerable to conspiracy theories, according to a new study. Unfortunately, when the conspiracy theories in question relate to a global health crisis, the resulting domino effect can reinforce misinformation and endanger the real lives of real people.
Posted in the Bulletin of Personality and Social Psychologythe present results are based on data collected directly from two large-scale national surveys conducted in the United States and the United Kingdom. The data includes 950 participants and a secondary analysis of data from 56 countries involving more than 50,000 participants.
The study analyzed people’s propensity to trust conspiracy theories in relation to the pandemic. The results consistently demonstrated two links. First, national narcissism was not only a more common trait among people who were more likely to believe conspiracy theories, but also to endorse misinformation based on them – for example, in the form of attackers WhatsApp. Second, as perhaps intuitive, belief in conspiracy theories also made people less likely to participate in precautionary behaviors and less supportive of public health policies.
“An exaggerated belief in national greatness…is associated with a greater focus on defending the country’s image than on caring for its citizens. It also correlates with seeing outgroups as a threat and blaming them for misfortunes within the group,” said one. study from 2020 Explain. “To increase people’s willingness to take a pandemic seriously and engage with other nations to defeat it, citizens and leaders may have to accept that their country is at risk, just like others, and find ways to share resources and expertise across national borders”.
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The researchers believe that the extremely consistent findings across cultures provide us with important insights into how people’s social identity can contribute to a nation’s collective health.
“People need to understand that social identity plays a central role in how people construct their beliefs… This can, of course, be a good thing if you’re part of a group that values accuracy and the well-being of group members. Alternatively, it can be a bad thing if your identity involves exaggerated views of your group and an obsession with dominance or image management,” noted Jay Van Bavel from the Department of Psychology and Neural Sciences at New York University in the United States, who participated in the 2020 study as well as the current one.
However, it is important to remember that national narcissism goes beyond love or pride in one’s country, values and traditions. There is also more than “political conservatism,” which is resistance to political change; or even beyond “national identification”, which means centering one’s identity around one’s country.
“National narcissists…pursue a political agenda that is primarily driven by concerns of what makes their nation to see good. They care about what the nation can do for them and how it reflects on them… [They] are quick to abandon their country if it benefits them,” the authors wrote.
For now, Van Bavel thinks “the most obvious future direction” is to understand how national narcissism can be “experimentally manipulated” – perhaps to ensure more desirable health outcomes.