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

JW van Prooijen (2019) An Existential Threat Model of Conspiracy Theories. European Psychologist
JW Van Prooijen & APM Krouwel (2019) Overclaiming knowledge predicts anti-establishment voting. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 1948550619862260
RE de Vries & JW van Prooijen (2019) Voters rating politicians' personality: Evaluative biases and assumed similarity on honesty-humility and openness to experience. Personality and individual differences 144, 100-104
JW van Prooijen (2019) 17 Belief in Conspiracy Theories. The Social Psychology of Gullibility: Conspiracy Theories, Fake News and …
JW van Prooijen & APM Krouwel (2019) Psychological features of extreme political ideologies. Current Directions in Psychological Science 28 (2), 159-163
Y Kutiyski, A Krouwel & JW van Prooijen (2019) Political extremism and distrust: Does radical political orientation predict political distrust and negative attitudes towards European integration?. The Social Science Journal
K Fousiani & JW van Prooijen (2019) Reactions to offenders: Psychological differences between beliefs versus punishment. British Journal of Social Psychology
N Köbis, S van der Lingen, TDD Cruz, D Iragorri-Carter, JW van Prooijen & ... (2019) The Look Over Your Shoulder: Unethical Behaviour Decreases in the Physical Presence of Observers. PsyArXiv
M Dong, JW Van Prooijen, S Wu, Y Zhang & S Jin (2019) Prosocial Attitudes toward Money from Terror Management Perspective: Death Transcendence through Spirituality. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 29 (1), 1-17
P Strelan, JW Van Prooijen & M Gollwitzer (2019) When transgressors intend to cause harm: The empowering effects of revenge and forgiveness on victim well‐being. British Journal of Social Psychology
JW van Prooijen, K Douglas, A Cichocka & M Bilewicz (2019) Psychology section–Introduction. Routledge
R Neve, S Eris, F Weerman, JW van Prooijen, V Ljujic & I Versteegt (2019) Radicalisering in problematische jeugdgroepen. Amsterdam: NWO/NSCR
M Dong, JW van Prooijen & PAM van Lange (2019) Self-enhancement in moral hypocrisy: Moral superiority and moral identity are about better appearances. PloS one 14 (7)
JW van Prooijen & KM Douglas (2018) Belief in conspiracy theories: Basic principles of an emerging research domain. European journal of social psychology 48 (7), 897-908
JW van Prooijen & M Van Vugt (2018) Conspiracy theories: Evolved functions and psychological mechanisms. Perspectives on psychological science 13 (6), 770-788
JW van Prooijen, J Staman & APM Krouwel (2018) Increased conspiracy beliefs among ethnic and Muslim minorities. Applied cognitive psychology 32 (5), 661-667
JW van Prooijen, B Rutjens & M Brandt (2018) Populism as political mentality underlying conspiracy theories. Belief systems and the perception of reality, 79-96
JW van Prooijen (2018) The psychology of QAnon: Why do seemingly sane people believe bizarre conspiracy theories?. OpEd NBC News
A Pereira & JW van Prooijen (2018) Why we sometimes punish the innocent: The role of group entitativity in collective punishment. PloS one 13 (5), e0196852
JW van Prooijen (2018) The psychology of conspiracy theories. Routledge

View full list of publications on Google Scholar