Are rules made to be broken? Conspiracy exposure promotes aggressive behavior

Kai Tak POON, Shun Wai Rheal CHAN, Hill Son LAI

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1 Citation (Scopus)


Individuals often come across political conspiracy theories in various daily encounters. Researchers have mainly investigated predictors of conspiracy beliefs; meanwhile, the psychological and behavioral consequences of conspiracy exposure remain less known. In four experimental studies (total valid N = 1,091) with U.S. and Chinese participants, we examined whether conspiracy exposure promotes aggressive behavior and tested several potential mechanisms underlying the effect. We also tested whether reinforcing the importance of following rules weakens conspiracy exposure's effect on aggression. Our results revealed that conspiracy exposure increases aggression through a greater tendency to break rules (Experiments 1–3). We also ruled out two alternative mechanisms because neither sense of control (Experiment 2) nor negative mood (Experiment 3) accounted for conspiracy exposure's effect on aggression, and rule-breaking tendencies still significantly mediated the effect after we controlled for these factors. Finally, increasing the perceived importance of rules weakened conspiracy exposure's effect on aggression (Experiment 4). Taken together, this research carries significant implications for how exposure to political conspiracy theories influences people's aggression. Our findings also lend themselves practically to the development of strategies for reducing the negative impacts of political conspiracy theories. Copyright © 2023 International Society of Political Psychology.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPolitical Psychology
Early online dateDec 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Dec 2023


Poon, K.-T., Chan, R. S. W., & Lai, H.-S. (2023). Are rules made to be broken? Conspiracy exposure promotes aggressive behavior. Political Psychology. Advance online publication.


  • Aggression
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Conspiracy exposure
  • Conspiracy theories
  • Rule breaking


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