The Nature of Strong Belief

Alsuhibani, Azzam ORCID: 0000-0003-3211-4013
(2020) The Nature of Strong Belief. PhD thesis, University of Liverpool.

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Abstract Background Many kinds of beliefs can be held both strongly and emotionally, which means that they can prove difficult to change. Such beliefs can be either pathological (e.g. delusions) or non-pathological (e.g. religious, political and supernatural beliefs as well as belief in conspiracy theories). The difficulty associated with distinguishing between delusions and other types of strong beliefs has given rise to the term ‘master explanatory systems’ (MES), which include paranoid beliefs, belief in conspiracies, political beliefs, religious beliefs and paranormal beliefs. The present study sought to investigate the commonalities between pathological and non-pathological beliefs, in addition to their correlation with other psychological constructs. Methods This study comprised three large-scale online surveys and one online experiment. The first survey involved over 500 participants from three different universities (Liverpool, Ulster and Oxford) in the United Kingdom (UK). The second survey involved a representative sample of 1508 participants from the UK, while the third survey involved a smaller representative sample (about 630 participants) of the UK population. Finally, the online experiment involved 245 participants, who were divided into two groups. The data derived from the three surveys and the online experiment were analysed by means of different statistical approaches. First, confirmatory factor analysis was performed to study the relationship between paranoia and belief in conspiracy theories, while a multivariate regression was run between the two types of beliefs and certain other psychological constructs. Second, the same statistical approach as used in the first study was also used to investigate the relationship between religious (monotheistic) belief and atheism. Third, a bifactor analysis was performed to determine whether there was a common latent factor (or 'S') underlying all the MES. Finally, a mortality salience intervention was conducted to examine the effect of the fear of death on the strong belief latent factor S. Results The first study revealed that paranoia and belief in conspiracy theories are better explained as two separate yet related factors. Moreover, they are both related positively to loneliness and factors relevant to the external locus of control (i.e., powerful others and chance). However, belief in conspiracy theories but not paranoia was related positively with poor analytical reasoning. The second study indicated that religious belief and atheism are also can better explained as two distinct yet related factors. The scale that was designed for the two factors (monotheism and atheism) was found to exhibit high reliability. In terms of the third study, a bifactor model incorporating strong beliefs of paranoia, beliefs in conspiracies, religiosity, and nationalism as well as the three factors associated with paranormal beliefs was found to have a better fit indices when compared with the confirmatory factor analysis of those beliefs, while the latent strong belief factor S was found to underlie all the MES. Finally, the online experiment revealed that the mortality salience manipulation increased the participants’ death anxiety, worsened their analytical reasoning, and enhanced the S. Conclusions Taken together, the findings of this study support the existence of the strong belief latent factor S. The surveys showed S to exhibit consistent correlation with the other psychological constructs of interest. However, further studies involving clinical samples are recommended to replicate and extend the present findings.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Divisions: Faculty of Health and Life Sciences
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 28 Apr 2021 15:04
Last Modified: 18 Jan 2023 22:56
DOI: 10.17638/03117600
  • Cole, Jonathan
  • Bentall, Richard