Conspiracy Theories and Institutional Trust: Examining the Role of Uncertainty Avoidance and Active Social Media Use

Silvia Mari, Homero Gil de Zúñiga, Ahmet Suerdem, Katja Hanke, Gary Brown, Roosevelt Vilar, Diana Boer, Michal Bilewicz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


A generalized climate of distrust in political institutions is not functional to healthy democracies. With the advent of social media, recent scholarly efforts attempt to better understand people's conspiracy theory beliefs in inhibiting institutional trust. This study contributes to this literature by considering the direct antecedent effects of uncertainty avoidance and the moderating role of active social media use—SMU (i.e., interactional SMU, informational SMU, and political expressive SMU). The former is theorized to enable conspiracy theories to thrive, while the latter should cushion the negative effects of conspiracy beliefs on institutional trust. Relying on diverse survey data across different cultures from Europe, the Americas, and New Zealand (N = 11,958) and applying structural equation modeling, findings supported the hypothesized model. In high uncertainty-avoidance societies, where less well-known situations are perceived as uncomfortable or downright threatening, conspiracy beliefs proliferate and negatively impact institutional trust. Active SMU attenuates these effects. Via social media, citizens have the ability to strengthen social relationships (interactional SMU), keep themselves informed about the community (informational SMU), and engage in political self-expression (political expressive SMU), which mitigate conspiracy-belief negative effects on institutional trust. Future research implications and key limitations of the study are all discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)277-296
Number of pages20
JournalPolitical Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science and International Relations


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