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Exploring and addressing medical conspiracy theories (ref: RDF20/PSY/JOLLEY)

  • Full or part time

    Dr L Shepherd
    Dr N Neave
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, January 24, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Whilst conspiracy beliefs may seem appealing, they can impact citizens in significant ways, through the environment, politics and health. For example, conspiracy beliefs have been shown to reduce people’s likelihood to have a (fictional) child vaccinated, and instead be more likely to rely on alternative therapies. Conspiracy theories may, therefore, play a role in vaccine uptake declining globally. However, previous research has predominately narrowly focused on vaccination behaviours, where the medical consequences caused by conspiracy theorising may be wider reaching. It is possible that conspiracy theories perhaps impact people over multiple interconnecting health domains.

Research has shown that medical mistrust can be an important contributor to people’s medical choices, where it can act as a catalyst for poor medical choices. Belief in conspiracy theories could be fuelling this mistrust, which could then impact a range of domains. For example, research has shown that medical mistrust can reduce people’s likelihood to donate (e.g., organs, blood, etc.), which could also be impacted by conspiracy beliefs. Moreover, conspiracy beliefs may impact adjacent areas, such as being likely to engage with appropriate treatment for illness that could be minor (e.g., common cold) to more serious and long lasting (e.g., diabetes). Conspiracy theories may not only be an obstacle to vaccines, but other important medical choices.

In this PhD, first a deeper understanding of the medical consequences of conspiracy beliefs will be explored, including the antecedents of such beliefs (e.g., prior positive contact with a health professional). Second, based on the developed novel knowledge base, an intervention will be developed that seeks to combat the antecedents of medical beliefs, which in turn, will positively change the medical choices that people make. The project will make a novel contribution by considering a variety of health behaviours, which align with MDRT of Integrated Health and Social Care.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

• Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
• Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
• Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF20/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: Friday 24 January 2020
Start Date: 1 October 2020

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community. The University holds an Athena SWAN Bronze award in recognition of our commitment to improving employment practices for the advancement of gender equality.

Funding Notes

The studentship is available to Home/EU students with a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2019/20, this is £15,009 pa) and full fees.


Jolley, D. & Douglas., K. M. (2017). Prevention is better than cure: Addressing anti-vaccine conspiracy theories. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 47 (8), 459-469. doi: 10.1111/jasp.12453

Jolley, D. & Douglas, K.M. (2014). The effects of anti-vaccine conspiracy theories on vaccination intentions. PLoS ONE, 9 (2): e89177. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0089177

Shepherd, L. & O'Carroll, R. (2014). When do next-of-kin opt-in? Anticipated regret, affective attitudes and donating deceased family member's organs. Journal of Health Psychology, 19(12), 1508-1517

Shepherd, L. & O'Carroll, R. (2014). Do affective attitudes predict organ donor registration? A prospective study. Journal of Health Psychology, 19(10), 1329-1333

Shepherd, L. & O'Carroll, R. (2013). Awareness of legislation moderates the effect of opt-out consent on organ donation intentions. Transplantation, 95(8), 1058-1063

Bruder, M., Haffke, P., Neave, N., Nouripanah, N., & Imhoff. R. (2013) Measuring individual differences in generic beliefs in conspiracy theories across cultures: the Conspiracy Mentality Questionnaire (CMQ). Frontiers in Psychology, 4: 1-15.

Darwin, H., Neave, N., & Holmes, J. (2011). Belief in conspiracy theories. The role of paranormal belief, paranoid ideation and schizotypy. Personality and Individual Differences, 50: 1289-1293.

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