Download Full Text (596 KB)


While scholars of conspiracy theories have recently made great strides in understanding the basic nature and correlates of conspiratorial thinking, we still know little about how conspiracy beliefs are disseminated and communicated, especially when it comes to traditional media. Here we use a unique experiment to investigate whether media coverage of mass shootings – complete with the uncertainty, conflicting reports, and dubious official narratives that characterize such coverage – provides the raw material for conspiracy theories and promotes conspiracy beliefs among viewers. We find that implicit conspiratorial information – that which causes confusion and foments uncertainty – does not enflame conspiracy beliefs. However, more explicitly conspiratorial information – that which challenges the official narrative and questions the details of investigative findings – does, fostering conspiracy beliefs about second shooters and governmental false flag operations. These findings suggest that conspiracy theories may be a natural consequence of the 24/7 news cycle.

Publication Date



political psychology; conspiracy theory; conspiracy belief; conspiratorial ideation; conspiratorial information; news media


American Politics | Models and Methods | Political Science | Psychology | Social Psychology

How News Media Coverage of Crises Promotes Conspiracy Beliefs