Date Published: April 18, 2019
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Author(s): Mohammad Atari, Reza Afhami, Viren Swami, Angel Blanch.
Several self-report measures of conspiracist beliefs have been developed in Western populations, but examination of their psychometric properties outside Europe and North America is limited. This study aimed to examine the psychometric properties of three widely-used measures of conspiracist beliefs in Iran. We translated the Belief in Conspiracy Theory Inventory (BCTI), Conspiracy Mentality Questionnaire (CMQ), and Generic Conspiracist Belief Scale (GCBS) into Persian. Factorial validity was examined using principal-axis factor analysis in a community sample from Tehran, Iran (N = 544). Further, the relationships between scores on these measures and hypothesized antecedents (i.e., education, schizotypal personality, information processing style, superstitious beliefs, religiosity, and political orientation) were examined. Overall, we failed to find support for the parent factor structures of two of the three scales (BCTI and GCBS) and evidence of construct validity for all three scales was limited. These results highlight the necessity of further psychometric work on existing measures of conspiracy theories in diverse culturo-linguistic groups and the development of context-specific measures of conspiracist beliefs.
Some people believe immunization does not serve its intended purpose, global warming is a hoax, humans never landed on moon, and the United States (U.S.) government was involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Such beliefs are commonly referred to as conspiracy theories, broadly defined as a subset of false narratives in which the ultimate cause of an event is believed to be due to a malevolent plot by multiple agents secretly working together [1–2]. A large proportion of the population of some countries share such beliefs; for example, Oliver and Wood  reported that approximately 55% of American adults in a nationally representative survey in the U.S. agreed with at least one of seven conspiracy theories they were presented with. Indeed, conspiracy theories spread rapidly across socio-political spectra despite strong contra-indicatory evidence [4–6]. In the past two decades, there has been increasing interest in psychological predictors and outcomes of endorsing conspiracy theories.
In the current study, we assessed the psychometric properties of three widely-used measures of conspiracist beliefs, namely the BCTI, CMQ, and GCBS [12,21,22]. Our results indicated difficulties replicating the parent factor structures two of three measures, with only the one-factor model of the CMQ being supported. Beyond factor structures, our results also suggested that evidence of convergent validity was limited, insofar as correlations between scores derived from our translated conspiracist belief measures and additional measures were weak at best. To our knowledge, this is the first empirical study on the psychology of conspiracy theories in Iran and highlights issues with the psychometric properties of existing measures that were originally developed in the West. In what follows, we review measurement qualities of the mentioned measures, discuss their relations to related variables in Iranian culture, and propose future directions in measurement and evaluation of conspiracist beliefs in Iran.