Updated: Sep 18, 2021
Whether it is flat earth, vaccines or the novel coronavirus, conspiracy theories have never been too far behind. Even climate change has a conspiracy theory behind it and naturally, the US government is behind it. By definition, a conspiracy theory is “A belief that some covert but influential organization is responsible for an unexplained event”.
We look at these people, who fall prey to conspiracies and wonder how someone could be so gullible. However, contrary to popular beliefs, people who have a tendency to believe conspiracy theories are not middle-aged people with a questionable education. Most of us are convinced that at least one conspiracy theory we have heard of, is most definitely true. The reason is pretty simple, there are an infinite number of conspiracy theories out there. If we were to poll on all of them, everybody is going to check a few boxes.
Most theories are mindless speculations by people who believe that most activities are controlled by sinister secret societies and that anything that the government claims is bound to be false. Often, these conspiracies are even labelled as ‘critical thinking’ and are announced with pride over their investigative skills. Overall, they come across as harmless bumbling by a bunch of people with no actual power to act upon their beliefs.
The problem arises when the number of people and the intensity of their vexation increases. There is a significant emergence of violence and disruptive activities, some even take to the streets. Fortunately, while this is not something that happens over conspiracy theories too often, the culture of conspiracy is something that is getting even more influential due to the ever-increasing reach of social media.
With the increase of theorists in the world, a very important question which needs to be addressed is what attracts people towards conspiracies, and why there is so much hue and cry over vague concepts with no substantial backing.
Research suggests that the happenings of the world are giving rise to underlying emotions which are pushing them towards the rabbit hole of conspiracies. Experiments have revealed that feelings of anxiety make people think more conspiratorially and such feelings, along with a sense of disenfranchisement, currently grip a significant number of people all over the globe. People who have invested time and energy in maintaining these beliefs, whether by learning about them and accepting the knowledge or by propagating their viewpoint may often even be socially alienated and marginalized. In a situation like this, a theory provides comfort by identifying a scapegoat and makes them feel as though the world is more controllable and straightforward. Uncertainty is not a pleasant state to be in and these beliefs provide them with comfort and a rigid idea of ‘what is’.
Stephan Lewandowsky, a cognitive scientist has said “People can assume that if these bad guys weren’t there, then everything would be fine, whereas if you don’t believe in a conspiracy theory, then you just have to say terrible things happen randomly.”
Moreover, people in high in need for uniqueness are more likely than others to endorse conspiracy beliefs because conspiracy theories represent the possession of unconventional and potentially, what is scarce information. Additionally, conspiracy theories essentially rely on narratives that refer to the idea ‘secret knowledge’.
People who believe in conspiracy theories can feel ‘special’ or even develop a grandiose idea of the self in a positive sense, because they may feel that they are more informed than others about important social and political events. The idea of ‘Machiavellianism’ is often times associated with this idea.
Often times, these people are not open to contradictions, because there is an emotional investment in these stories. However, it can be seen that when there is counter argument, stating facts, people’s beliefs in these theories begin to wane.
In simple terms, while a lot of us may be interested in the ‘idea’ of conspiracies, we do not put in a heavy amount of time and energy into research and propagation with regard to the same. The idea of conspiracies stems from filling in the gulf where there is uncertainty.
Grohol, J. M. (2020, August 19). A psychologist explains why people believe conspiracy theories more readily during uncertain times. Retrieved from Business Insider: https://www.businessinsider.com/psychologist-explains-why-people-believe-conspiracy-theories-during-uncertain-times-2020-4?IR=T
Ludden, D. (2018, January 06). Why Do People Believe In Conspiracy Theories? . Retrieved from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/talking-apes/201801/why-do-people-believe-in-conspiracy-theories
Moyer, M. W. (2019, March 01). People Drawn to Conspiracy Theories Share a Cluster of Psychological Features. Retrieved from Scientific American: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/people-drawn-to-conspiracy-theories-share-a-cluster-of-psychological-features/