Is the World Run by Evil Forces? Conspiracy Mentality Among Adolescents in Relation to Right-Wing Extremist Ideology and Discriminatory Behavior



Right-wing Extremism, Discrimination, Adolescents, Conspiracy Mentality, Germany


In conspiracy narratives, certain individuals or groups are identified as solely responsible for important social problems. The belief in such narratives shares many similarities with political extremism in general and an integral part of a conspiracy theory— that the world is run by evil forces— is also found in far-right rhetoric. Although conspiracy beliefs have typically been studied in adult populations, adolescents constitute a group that may be particularly susceptible to these ideologies. Therefore, this study aims to examine conspiracy mentality as well as association with a right-wing extremist ideology (RWEI) and discriminatory behaviors toward foreign and homosexual persons among adolescents. The present study uses data from 2,824 students of different educational backgrounds (mean age 15) from Germany to investigate this relationship. Results indicate that adolescents believe in conspiracy theories to a lesser degree than adults in similar studies. It is further established that the higher the conspiracy mentality, the more adolescents share a right-wing extremist ideology. A significant association between conspiracy mentality and discriminatory behavior is also found in the 9th grade, but not in the 7th.  Moreover, a conspiracy mentality moderates the established relationship between RWEI and discriminatory behavior at this grade level. Johnson-Neyman plots indicate that a conspiracy mentality already amplifies the effect of RWEI on discriminatory behavior toward foreign persons when adolescents attribute an average probability of 10% or more to the various conspiracy myths (30% for discrimination against homosexual persons). This illustrates that even a rather weakly developed conspiracy mentality can strengthen this attitude-behavior relationship.


The school survey was funded by the Ministry of the Interior in Schleswig-Holstein. No conditions were imposed with the financing.


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