Traumatic Rift: How Conspiracy Beliefs Undermine Cohesion After Societal Trauma?


  • Michal Bilewicz
  • Marta Witkowska
  • Myrto Pantazi
  • Theofilos Gkinopoulos
  • Olivier Klein


Collective traumas may often lead to deep societal divides and internal conflicts. In this article, we propose that conspiracy theories emerging in response to victimizing events may play a key role in the breakdown of social cohesion. We performed a nationally representative survey in Poland (N = 965) two years after the Smoleńsk airplane crash in which the Polish president was killed, together with 95 political officials and high-ranking military officers. The survey found that people endorsing conspiratorial accounts of the Smoleńsk catastrophe preferred to distance themselves from conspiracy non-believers, while skeptics preferred greater distance to conspiracy believers. We also examined the role of people’s belief in the uniqueness of in-group historical suffering as an important antecedent of both conspiracy thinking and hostility towards outgroups (conspiracy believers and non-believers).