Why Do People Believe in Conspiracies?

 The truth may be out there but lies are in your head.   Terry Pratchett

What makes conspiracy theories so appealing?

Whether we are talking about bout 9/11 being an inside job, the moon landings being faked,  JFK's assassination being ordered by the CIA (or the Mafia, or Fidel Castro, or the KGB, et al.) or the world being under the control of shape-shifting reptilian aliens, it seems as if there is someone out there who insists that these conspiracies are true.   Almost inevitably, the conspiracy theorists also insist that Someone Out There (such as the Illuminati, the New World Order, or the Masonic Temple) are suppressing the information that could prove it.   Entire industries have sprung up to support the various communities espousing this or that theory and no amount of tangible evidence seems capable of dissuading these true believers.   And it seems as if every new world event spawns another theory to add to the countless others that are already in place.

Still, while these conspiracy theories may seem harmless enough, the consequences of this kind of belief can be far more damaging than you might realize.  Conspiracy theories relating to vaccines causing autism has led to a sharp reduction in vaccinations and a rise in otherwise preventable diseases.  For that matter,  similar theories about fluoridation in drinking water, climate change, and alternative  cancer treatments have led to dangerous and often tragic consequences in recent years.

Recognizing the powerful attraction of conspiracy theories, psychologists have carried out numerous studies trying to understand why some people are drawn to these beliefs.   This research has found evidence that certain personality traits such as Machiavellianism, openness to experience, narcissism, and low agreeability seem especially high in conspiracy believers.   They also show lower levels of analytical thinking and a tendency to see "patterns" in often unrelated events.   But a new research article published in the journal Social Psychology suggests that  conspiracy theories may also provide some interesting psychological benefits for people who choose to believe in them.

To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.






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