Associate Professor

Jan-Willem van Prooijen

Associate Professor

Phone: +31 (0)20 5988851
Room: MF-B558

Personal webpage


I work on three interrelated research projects: Social injustice, belief in conspiracy theories, and political ideology. In my research on social injustice, I examine the general, overarching question of how people cope with situations that they consider to be unfair. I address this question from three complementary perspectives. The first perspective is when people themselves feel unfairly treated, focusing specifically on procedural justice (i.e., the extent to which people evaluate the decision-making procedures that leaders use as fair). The second perspective is when people perceive injustice as observers, focusing on punishment sentiments, fairness-based responses to crime victims, and intervention behavior (e.g., the bystander effect). The third perspective is when people are perpetrators of injustice, focusing specifically on corruption. For this latter perspective I collaborate with a NWO funded PhD student (Nils Kobis).

My work on belief in conspiracy theories addresses the question which psychological factors predict if, and in what situations, people are likely to believe that threats to the social order are caused by an evil conspiracy of societal power holders. Large portions of the population believe in conspiracy theories about specific events (e.g., the 9/11 terrorist strikes; the death of Princess Diana) or about ongoing crises (e.g., climate change; economic crises). What specific sense-making processes facilitate such belief in conspiracy theories? How do feelings of uncertainty relate to such beliefs? To what extent do conspiracy beliefs reflect a genuine concern for the collective interest? What are the societal and political implications of belief in conspiracy theories? This project was awarded a NWO conflict & Security grant in 2010.

Finally, recently my work expanded to broader issues in political psychology with research on political ideology. My main focus in this project is on political extremism. How do the political extremes differ from moderates? In what ways does the (extreme) left differ from the (extreme) right, and in what ways are they similar? Are both extremes driven by uncertainty and fear—and if so, why then are the political extremes typically rather confident of their views? Is prejudice and outgroup derogation specific to the political right, as some theories assert, or do these phenomena occur among both extremes?


I received my PhD from the department of Social and Organizational Psychology at Leiden University in 2002. During my PhD studentship I already moved to  VU University Amsterdam, where I currently work as an Associate Professor at the Department of Experimental and Applied Psychology . Since 2011, I also work one day a week as a Senior Researcher at the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement (NSCR). I teach introduction to Social Psychology in the first bachelor year, am teaching coordinator for the social psychology program, and coordinate the Research Master in Social Psychology.

Research interests

My research interests are described elaborately under “Projects”. My research focuses on social injustice, belief in conspiracy theories, and political ideology, broadly defined. To study these topics I utilize both experimental and applied research methods. I take an interdisciplinary approach to these issues, with social psychology as main field of expertise, but with close collaborative connections to fields such as organizational psychology, criminology, and political science.


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Recent publications

R Imhoff, F Zimmer, O Klein, JHC António, M Babinska, A Bangerter & ... (2021) Conspiracy Mentality and Political Orientation across 26 countries. Nature Human Behaviour
JW van Prooijen, TW Etienne, Y Kutiyski & APM Krouwel (2021) Just a Flu? Self-perceived infection mediates the link between conspiracy beliefs and Covid-19 health beliefs and behaviors. Journal of Health Psychology, 13591053211051816
JW van Prooijen, TW Etienne, Y Kutiyski & APM Krouwel (2021) Conspiracy beliefs prospectively predict health behavior and well-being during a pandemic. Psychological medicine, 1-8
JW van Prooijen (2021) Injustice Without Evidence: The Unique Role of Conspiracy Theories in Social Justice Research. Social Justice Research, 1-19
T Ståhl & JW van Prooijen (2021) Analytic atheism: Valuing epistemic rationality strengthens the association between analytic thinking and religious disbelief. Personality and Individual Differences 179, 110914
M Pantazi, K Papaioannou & JW van Prooijen (2021) Power to the People: The Hidden Link Between Support for Direct Democracy and Belief in Conspiracy Theories. Political Psychology
J Adam‐Troian, P Wagner‐Egger, M Motyl, T Arciszewski, R Imhoff & ... (2021) Investigating the links between cultural values and belief in conspiracy theories: The key roles of collectivism and masculinity. Political Psychology 42 (4), 597-618
JW van Prooijen, J Ligthart, S Rosema & Y Xu (2021) The entertainment value of conspiracy theories. British Journal of Psychology
K Fousiani & JW Van Prooijen (2021) Supplementary materials for: Punishment Reactions to Powerful Suspects: Comparing a “Corrupt” versus a “Leniency” Approach of Power. PsychArchives
JW Van Prooijen, G Spadaro & H Wang (2021) Suspicion of institutions: How distrust and conspiracy theories deteriorate social relationships. Current opinion in psychology
Z Baloch, MZ Iqbal, M Ikramullah, JW van Prooijen & T Khan (2021) Getting Ratees to Accept Performance Feedback: A Relational Approach. Social Justice Research, 1-32
L Knappert, H Van Dijk, S Yuan, Y Engel, JW van Prooijen & A Krouwel (2021) Personal contact with refugees is key to welcoming them: An analysis of politicians' and citizens' attitudes towards refugee integration. Political Psychology 42 (3), 423-442
JW van Prooijen (2021) Conspiracy thinking: A scapegoat is always useful. The UNESCO Courier 2021 (2), 42-45
JW van Prooijen & M Song (2021) The cultural dimension of intergroup conspiracy theories. British Journal of Psychology 112 (2), 455-473
A Krouwel & JW van Prooijen (2021) The New European Order? Euroscepticism and conspiracy belief. Europe: Continent of Conspiracies, 22-35
AG Marques, IR Pinto, AC Leite, GR de Moura, JW van Prooijen & ... (2021) " A right to lead": The role of leader legitimacy on group reactions to transgressive leadership. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 51 (4), 350-362
JW van Prooijen (2021) The psychology of political polarization: An introduction. The Psychology of Political Polarization, 1-13
CM Federico (2021) When do psychological differences predict political differences?: Engagement and the psychological bases of political polarization. The Psychology of Political Polarization, 17-37
JW van Prooijen (2021) Overconfidence in Radical Politics. The Psychology of Populism, 143-157
M Dong, JW van Prooijen, S Wu & PAM van Lange (2021) Culture, status, and hypocrisy: High-status people who don’t practice what they preach are viewed as worse in the United States than China. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 1948550621990451

View full list of publications on Google Scholar