Watching for a snake in the grass: Objectification increases conspiracy beliefs

Kai Tak POON, Shun Wai Rheal CHAN, Hill-Son LAI, Yufei JIANG, Fei TENG

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlespeer-review


Objectification, being treated as a tool to achieve someone's instrumental goals, is a common phenomenon. A workplace supervisor may view employees solely in terms of their output; likewise, friends may be seen only for their potential for personal and social advancement. We conducted five studies (N = 1209) to test whether objectification increases conspiracy beliefs through thwarted trust and whether postobjectification increases in conspiracy beliefs carry behavioural implications. While conspiracy beliefs may have evolved as a strategy for survival, they may be considered maladaptive in the modern world. Therefore, understanding the antecedents, underlying mechanisms, and implications of conspiracy beliefs is essential. We measured (Study 1) and manipulated objectification (Studies 2–5), consistently finding that objectification decreased trust, thereby increasing conspiracy beliefs (Studies 1–5). This effect remained after considering negative emotions (Study 2). Increased conspiracy beliefs following objectification positively predicted unethical tendencies, and the effect of objectification on unethical tendencies was serially mediated by trust and conspiracy beliefs (Study 4). Restoring objectified people's trust weakened their conspiracy beliefs and unethical tendencies (Study 5). We discussed the implications of our findings, proposing directions for researchers, practitioners, managers, and policymakers for theoretical advancement, healthier coping, and promotion of well-being. Copyright © 2024 The Author(s).

Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Social Psychology
Early online dateMay 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - May 2024


Poon, K.-T., Chan, R. S. W., Lai, H.-S., Jiang, Y., & Teng, F. (2024). Watching for a snake in the grass: Objectification increases conspiracy beliefs. British Journal of Social Psychology. Advance online publication.


  • Conspiracy beliefs
  • Conspiracy theories
  • Objectification
  • Trust
  • Trust restoration
  • Unethical behaviour


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