Psychology of Conspiracy Theorists

Discussion in 'Conspiracies' started by James R, Feb 18, 2015.

  1. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

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    Why do people believe in conspiracy theories? And why, if you believe in one conspiracy theories, are you more likely to believe in other such theories?

    Here's an interesting article on that topic:

    http://www.slate.com/articles/healt...le_who_claim_to_know_the_truth_about_jfk.html

    Here's my quick summary of some of the points made. The term "believers" below means "people who believe in one or more conspiracy theories".
    • Believers aren't really skeptics. They are selective doubters. They favour a particular worldview, which they uncritically defend.
    • Believers tend to think that elites are omnipotent - e.g. the government can, in utter secrecy, influence the flow of information to such an extent that it can "cover up" massive conspiracies of misinformation such as the existence of UFOs, the non-reality of climate change, that the US government brought down the World Trade Center, or the danger of vaccines to children.
    • Believers tend to be low in trust of other people. This makes them more likely to believe that other people are colluding against them.
    • Believers tend to be political cynics. That is, they are more inclined to think that politicians are liars, and that politics is a process for elites that is removed from the "common man".
    • Believers tend to believe that most people can be "bought off" so as to act dishonestly or to support a conspiracy. This is tied to their general lack of trust, especially in "the establishment".
    • Believers tend to think that random occurrences are actually intended by somebody.
    • Believes tend to ignore complex causes, instead putting things down to overarching control by the omnipotent elites. Given the choice between a complex web of causes and a seemingly-simple explanation involving a conspiracy of powerful elites, believers will opt for the conspiracy theory most of the time.
    • Believers tend to think that people behave in certain ways because they have certain objectives (aligned with the conspiracy, typically), and/or personality traits (untrustworthiness, seeking to enrich or empower themselves). Believers downplay the importance of situational factors and chance in how people act.
    • Believers tend to be imaginative and prone to fantasising.
    • If you believe that the world is full of malice and planning instead of circumstance and coincidence, you are more likely to buy into belief in a conspiracy theory. And once you believe in one, you're far more likely to believe in others.
    • Believers are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories that actually contradict one another than to accept a straightforward explanation. For example, the more you believe that Princess Diana faked her own death, you more likely you are believe that, if she didn't fake her own death, then she was probably murdered.
    • A study showed that "The strongest predictor of belief in an entirely fictitious conspiracy theory was belief in other real-world conspiracy theories."
    • Believers feel alienated from mainstream society. They don't trust the government or the media.
    • Believers concentrate on finding "holes" in official explanations. However, they do not look for holes in the "alternative" (conspiracy theory) explanations, tending instead to accept them at face value.
    • Conspiracy believers are the ultimate motivated skeptics. Their curse is that they apply this selective scrutiny not to the left or right, but to the mainstream. They tell themselves that they’re the ones who see the lies, and the rest of us are sheep. But believing that everybody’s lying is just another kind of gullibility.
    Does this sound like you, or anybody you know?
     
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  3. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

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    Had to get your jab in didn't you? Once again, ad homing whole groups of people as a way of discrediting their position. Tsk tsk. And I expected so much more from you.
     
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  5. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

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    Do you self-identify with what I posted, Magical Realist?
     
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  7. Daecon Kiwi fruit Valued Senior Member

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    What jab? I'm sure it's not all about you.
     
  8. Daecon Kiwi fruit Valued Senior Member

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    I identify as a political cynic, to an extent. I'm probably likely to believe allegations of politicians being caught lying or cheating, etc. because there's so much precedent for it. It really doesn't stretch the imagination to believe the stories of dishonest politicians being caught in scandals.
     
  9. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

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    The Jews under Nazi rule probably had all the marks of conspiracy theorists. The black slaves of the American South. Gay men in the 1950's. Women in Muslim countries. It's good to be a conspiracy theorist when there's actual conspiracies around. It's the mindset of being an oppressed and demonized minority. Thank god for the conspiracy theorists. Socrates, Jesus, Galileo, Ghandi, Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr. They're the brave ones who have stood up against the system, suffered abuse from it, carried on with their message, and actually changed the world for the better.
     
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2015
  10. Bells Staff Member

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    You have it back to front. The reality is that it is the other way around. With the Jews, for example, it was the Nazi's who pushed conspiracies about the Jews, not the other way around. Such as when Hitler used to spread bizarre conspiracy theories about the Jews in his speeches and frankly, all the Nazi's did was based solely off conspiracy theories they sold to the populace to excuse their abhorrent actions.

    The same with black slaves, where white slave owners and those who supported slavery deliberately spread false rumours about black people. As for women in Muslim countries, it isn't the women who are or have all the marks of conspiracy theorists. It is the leadership in those countries who spread lies and what can only be described as conspiracy theories about women and issues surrounding women (such as women who drive do not care about being raped as the reason and excuse for why women in Saudi Arabia are banned from driving).

    In other words, it is those in power and those with influence and who have more to gain who usually spread conspiracy theories.
     
  11. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

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    Uh no. The conspiracy takes the form of a majority who marginalizes and oppresses a minority. The conspiracy theorist thus is part of this minority that is demonized and persecuted. It happened with Jews. It happened with blacks. It happened with gays. And it happens with women in Muslim countries. The conspiracy is always the ones in power. The conspiracy theorists are the warriors against this oppressive power. They're the ones who change the system. They're the ones the mainstream paints as lunatics, as paranoid, as "conspiracy theorists" with 30 psychological traits so you can quickly point them out in public and shame them.
     
  12. Daecon Kiwi fruit Valued Senior Member

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    What conspiracy theories did "the gays" used to spread?
     
  13. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

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    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/26/m...-conspiracy-theories.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    While psychologists
    can’t know exactly what goes on inside our heads, they have, through surveys and laboratory studies, come up with a set of traits that correlate well with conspiracy belief. In 2010, Swami and a co-author summarized this research in The Psychologist, a scientific journal. They found, perhaps surprisingly, that believers are more likely to be cynical about the world in general and politics in particular. Conspiracy theories also seem to be more compelling to those with low self-worth, especially with regard to their sense of agency in the world at large. Conspiracy theories appear to be a way of reacting to uncertainty and powerlessness.

    Economic recessions, terrorist attacks and natural disasters are massive, looming threats, but we have little power over when they occur or how or what happens afterward. In these moments of powerlessness and uncertainty, a part of the brain called the amygdala kicks into action. Paul Whalen, a scientist at Dartmouth College who studies the amygdala, says it doesn’t exactly do anything on its own. Instead, the amygdala jump-starts the rest of the brain into analytical overdrive — prompting repeated reassessments of information in an attempt to create a coherent and understandable narrative, to understand what just happened, what threats still exist and what should be done now. This may be a useful way to understand how, writ large, the brain’s capacity for generating new narratives after shocking events can contribute to so much paranoia in this country.

    “If you know the truth and others don’t, that’s one way you can reassert feelings of having agency,” Swami says. It can be comforting to do your own research even if that research is flawed. It feels good to be the wise old goat in a flock of sheep.

    Surprisingly, Swami’s work has also turned up a correlation between conspiracy theorizing and strong support of democratic principles. But this isn’t quite so strange if you consider the context. Kathryn Olmsted, a historian at the University of California, Davis, says that conspiracy theories wouldn’t exist in a world in which real conspiracies don’t exist. And those conspiracies — Watergate or the Iran-contra Affair — often involve manipulating and circumventing the democratic process. Even people who believe that the Sandy Hook shooting was actually a drama staged by actors couch their arguments in concern for the preservation of the Second Amendment.

    Our access to high-quality information has not, unfortunately, ushered in an age in which disagreements of this sort can easily be solved with a quick Google search. In fact, the Internet has made things worse. Confirmation bias — the tendency to pay more attention to evidence that supports what you already believe — is a well-documented and common human failing. People have been writing about it for centuries. In recent years, though, researchers have found that confirmation bias is not easy to overcome. You can’t just drown it in facts.

    In 2006, the political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler identified a phenomenon called the “backfire effect.” They showed that efforts to debunk inaccurate political information can leave people more convinced that false information is true than they would have been otherwise. Nyhan isn’t sure why this happens, but it appears to be more prevalent when the bad information helps bolster a favored worldview or ideology.

    In that way, Swami says, the Internet and other media have helped perpetuate paranoia. Not only does more exposure to these alternative narratives help engender belief in conspiracies, he says, but the Internet’s tendency toward tribalism helps reinforce misguided beliefs.

    And that’s a problem. Because while believing George W. Bush helped plan the Sept. 11 attacks might make you feel in control, it doesn’t actually make you so. Earlier this year, Karen Douglas, a University of Kent psychologist, along with a student, published research in which they exposed people to conspiracy theories about climate change and the death of Princess Diana. Those who got information supporting the theories but not information debunking them were more likely to withdraw from participation in politics and were less likely to take action to reduce their carbon footprints.

    Alex Jones, a syndicated radio host, can build fame as a conspiracy peddler; politicians can hint at conspiracies for votes and leverage; but if conspiracy theories are a tool the average person uses to reclaim his sense of agency and access to democracy, it’s an ineffective tool. It can even have dangerous health implications. For example, research has shown that African-Americans who believe AIDS is a weapon loosed on them by the government (remembering the abuses of the Tuskegee experiment) are less likely to practice protected sex. And if you believe that governments or corporations are hiding evidence that vaccines harm children, you’re less likely to have your children vaccinated. The result: pockets of measles and whooping-cough infections and a few deaths in places with low child-vaccination rates.
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  14. Bells Staff Member

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    I think you would find that the conspiracy theorist in the examples you cited is actually perpetrated by the majority against the minority. Against Jews for example:

    Most Holocaust denial claims imply, or openly state, that the Holocaust is a hoax arising out of a deliberate Jewish conspiracy to advance the interest of Jews at the expense of other peoples,[6] and to justify the creation of the State of Israel. For this reason, Holocaust denial is considered to be an antisemitic[7] conspiracy theory.[8]

    Antisemitism has, from the Middle Ages, frequently taken on characteristics of conspiracy theory. Antisemitic canards continue to circulate. In medieval Europe it was widely believed that Jews poisoned wells, had killed Jesus, and consumed the blood of Christians in their rituals (despite the fact that human and animal blood are not kosher).

    In the second half of the 19th century conspiracists claimed that Jews and/or Freemasons were plotting to establish control over the world. The best-known text alleging the existence of this Judeo-Masonic conspiracy theory is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. A more modern manifestation of such ideas is the theory of a Zionist Occupation Government.

    Various conspiracy theories have been advanced regarding Jews and banking,[1] including the theory that world banking is dominated by the Rothschild family,[2] that Jews control Wall Street,[2] and that Jews control the U.S. Federal Reserve System.[3] A related theory is that Jews control Hollywood or the news media.[4][5]


    It wasn't Jews making these claims, but others who wish to paint Jews in a negative light and to stoke fear against Jews.

    Or even gays. It isn't gays, the minority group, who spread vile conspiracy theories about them - such as those who believe that gays spread HIV or are paedophiles, for example. Such conspiracy theories are spread by those in the majority, to stoke feelings of hatred and fear against gays.

    To claim that gays or Jews were the ones who were the conspiracy theorists is laughable. It was actually the other way around.
     
  15. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

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    Bloody too much Television!
    X-Files and Millenium certainly have a lot to answer for.
     
  16. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

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    I think The X Files and Millenium just drew on what was already there. They didn't create it.
     
  17. Kittamaru Now nearly 40 pounds lighter. Staff Member

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    Wow... this honestly explains a lot...
     
  18. Trooper Secular Sanity Valued Senior Member

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  19. Bells Staff Member

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    Thank you Trooper. For a few seconds there, I thought I was concussed.
     
  20. Russ_Watters Not a Trump supporter... Valued Senior Member

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  21. Kittamaru Now nearly 40 pounds lighter. Staff Member

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    I guess my big question is... why? Why invent all these crazy theories? More often than not... the truth is stranger than fiction anyway!

    Is it some pathological need to imagine up crazy scenarios and/or lie?
    Is it some inability to comprehend or accept the truth, and so one denies logic and fact?
    Possibly a cry for attention?

    I ... really don't know. I can't understand it. For me, a driving force has always been the pursuit of knowledge and truth... even if, ultimately, I don't like the answer, knowing the truth will serve me far better in the long run!
     
  22. Bells Staff Member

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    There was this tv show, I watched the first episode and it was about people who literally base their lives around conspiracy theories. From political to everything under the sun. They even have nuclear bunkers and were storing food just in case for when the Government fails and "anarchy" reigns supreme. Although there was one family who had a house with a bomb shelter, and there was already food stuff stored there from years and years before. And they pulled out one barrel of this powdered food stuff of some sort, I cannot remember what it was. And it was mouldy and just looked nasty. And they were like 'can just scrape off the top, the rest should be good to see us through the apocalypse'. But they were storing canned foods, bottled water and yes, their guns. This other guy was saying the devil was coming and was prattling on about Obama being a black man in the white house and how the prophesy was coming to light and preaching it to all these other preppers. They were really into the whole conspiracy theory stuff.

    It would have been a hysterical show if it wasn't so sad. I never watched the other episodes. But from that one, seems that some people are simply crazy.
     
  23. Kittamaru Now nearly 40 pounds lighter. Staff Member

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    And yet... these people get to go out and vote, et al...

    I had to deal with something a bit similar the other day... (names of the other party are blacked out, I am, obviously Brian)

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    It disgusts me that people are so desperate to make a differing person or culture out to be "evil"... seriously, what is wrong with us as a species?
     

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