The relationship between epistemic stance, mentalizing, paranoid distress and conspiracy mentality: an empirical investigation

Submitted: July 7, 2023
Accepted: November 4, 2023
Published: December 28, 2023
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Epistemic stance, comprising epistemic trust, mistrust, and credulity, and the closely related construct of mentalizing have been related to paranoid ideation and conspiracy mentality. All phenomena are common in the general population and may become clinically and societally relevant at an extreme expression by influencing an individual’s positioning towards socially transmitted information possibly as far as complete social detachment or attachment to extremist views. Herein, an individual’s experienced distress may play an important role, which has however largely been neglected in empirical research. Thus, this study aims to empirically investigate the effect of epistemic stance on a clinically relevant aspect of paranoid ideation, namely paranoid distress. We assume that epistemic stance will be associated with paranoid distress, but that this association will be mediated by mentalizing. Moreover, we assume that epistemic stance will be indirectly associated with conspiracy thinking via paranoid distress. Data of 595 participants (mean age = 43.05; SD = 13.87; female = 48.32%, male = 51.18%, diverse = 0.51%) were collected via self-report questionnaires through an online-based cross-sectional study. Structural equation modeling was performed for data analysis. As expected, epistemic mistrust was associated with paranoid distress via mentalizing deficits. Unexpectedly, epistemic trust was associated with more paranoid distress. Indirectly, epistemic trust was associated with conspiracy mentality via paranoid distress. Findings partially confirmed the hypothesized associations. Mentalizing may be a target for reducing distress associated with a distrusting epistemic stance. Epistemically trusting individuals with high paranoid distress may turn to conspiracy theories for regulation.

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How to Cite

Hauschild, S., Kasper, L. A., Berning, A., & Taubner, S. (2023). The relationship between epistemic stance, mentalizing, paranoid distress and conspiracy mentality: an empirical investigation. Research in Psychotherapy: Psychopathology, Process and Outcome, 26(3). https://doi.org/10.4081/ripppo.2023.706