Where do the "gender conspiracy" theories come from? Scientists checked

Photo: Fotolia
Photo: Fotolia

Nearly 30 percent Polish Catholics surveyed by psychologists specialising in conspiracy theories believe in the existence of the "gender conspiracy". Belief in the existence of this conspiracy is associated with the conviction of the superiority of one`s own religious group, but it is not a result of religiosity or belief in God.

The term "gender ideology" has certainly made a huge career in the Polish public discourse since it first appeared in 2011. Some have begun to perceive the sciences described as "gender studies", which aim to analyse the social and cultural role of gender, as "the work of Satan", whose ominous goal is the destruction of the Catholic Church and Catholic values.

These views drew the attention of Dr. Marta Marchlewska from the Institute of Psychology PAS, Dr. Paulina Górska, Dr. Mikołaj Winiewski and Dr. Filip Łozowski from the University of Warsaw and Dr. Aleksandra Cichocka from the University of Kent (UK) specializing in research on conspiracy theories.

"Listening to various statements about the so-called +gender ideology+, we have noticed that they postulate the existence of collusion of a certain group of people who are supposedly only seemingly interested in science, while in fact they strive to realize wicked plans against humanity" - says Dr. Marta Marchlewska from the Institute of Psychology PAS. "In our research, we wanted to take a closer look at this phenomenon - where it comes from, how widespread it is, what its effects may be" - she says.

Psychologists believe that the potential contributing factor to the belief in the conspiracy of "gender ideologists," is not the religiosity of believers, but rather a specific attitude towards their religious group, called Catholic collective narcissism.

"It is a defensive identification with one`s own religious group" - explains Dr. Marchlewska. "Persons exhibiting this attitude demand constant admiration, appreciation for this group, they always pay attention to how it is perceived by others. All this is lined with uncertainty and a sense of threat" - she adds. As in the case of "individual" narcissism, presenting attitudes that express self admiration (and in this case admiration of one`s own group) is an attempt to mask weakness and uncertainty.

These feelings - the researcher adds - affect relationships between groups. "There is a high probability that collective narcissists will see external threats to the Church and exhibit hostile behaviour towards other groups" - she points out.

To verify their assumptions, the researchers conducted two studies. The first was conducted on a representative group of 941 Polish Catholics; its purpose was to assess whether there was a correlation between the conviction of the existence of a "gender conspiracy" and identification with the Catholic Church. The second study - in which 223 Internet users declaring Catholicism participated - was supposed to complement the results of the first one. Scientists checked the extent to which Catholic collective narcissism was associated with hostility towards people who do not conform with the so-called Catholic values (for example homosexuals).

In the first study, nearly 30 percent respondents declared their belief in the existence of a "gender conspiracy". "It is clearly not a rare phenomenon among Catholics, but on the other hand, it should be noted that many Catholics do not share this belief. Further analysis showed that susceptibility to the +gender conspiracy+ theory was related not so much to religion and belief in God, but rather to collective narcissism" - the researcher explains.

Psychological studies have already shown that conspiracy theories have a specific role: they appear in situations of fear and uncertainty, and their task is to protect the person from these feelings and "organize" the person`s vision of the world - for example by identifying alleged enemies.

"The psychological mechanism that we have observed largely confirms what we already know from other studies: conspiracy theories are related to the search for enemies of one`s own group, who are supposedly responsible for its problems and failures. Such thinking allows to shed responsibility for guilt, failure of one`s own group" - says Dr. Marchlewska. "The problem is that the consequence of perceiving gender studies in such a hostile way is the reluctance and hatred towards people associated with this field" - she adds.

"Conspiracy thinking is very dangerous: people who believe in conspiracy theories are not only hostile towards others, but also often act to their own disadvantage or disadvantage of their relatives (including children)" - emphasises Dr. Marchlewska. "Conspiracy theories very often undermine various scientific achievements, for example in the case of anti-vaccine movements".

Researchers are looking for ways to reduce susceptibility to conspiracy thinking. "One of the promising ways seems to be an attempt to reduce collective narcissism. Our research shows that primarily those who are accompanied by a low sense of control over their own lives identify themselves narcissistically with various groups. It appears that strengthening the sense of control and other forms of psychological security can reduce collective narcissism, belief in conspiracy theories and hostility towards strangers" - says Dr. Marchlewska.

PAP - Science in Poland, Katarzyna Florencka

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