Investigating Conspiracy Theories
POSTED November 18, 2022
The definition of “Conspiracy Theory” according to the Oxford dictionary, is “a belief that some covert but influential organization is responsible for a circumstance or event”. Unlike the name suggests, conspiracy theories usually don’t have any facts to back them up. So why do people believe in conspiracy theories?
There are many common conspiracy theories around the US such as flat earth conspiracies or 5g cell towers causing cancer. But what is the science behind people believing in conspiracy theories? According to Marta Marchlewska from National Geographic it almost always starts with a leader or powerful person. “There is no doubt that conspiracy theories and misinformation have been used by powerful figures over the ages,”. Groups of people who believe the same thing tend to have a thing called an “echo chamber effect”. They reinforce their own beliefs within the group. One person, usually the leader, says something and the rest ‘echo’ it back to them. These effects usually surge on social media, as it allows people to communicate easily according to GCFGlobal.
People who are antagonistic, generally disagreeable or narcissistic are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories according to a researcher at The University of Oregon. Carmen Kay, a researcher in the psychology department found that people who fall into the “Dark Tetrad” personality category tend to be susceptible to odd beliefs. Some traits of the “Dark Tetrad” personality are Machiavellianism (manipulativeness and cynicism); narcissism (vanity and self-obsession); psychopathy (impulsivity and callousness); and sadism (cruelty and abusiveness).
Stress is also commonly seen with people who start to believe conspiracy theories. A good example of this would’ve been the recent surge in conspiracy theories during the Covid-19 lock down. People were stressed and looking for something or someone to blame.
“People use cognitive shortcuts—largely unconscious rules-of-thumb to make decisions faster—to determine what they should believe. And people experiencing anxiety or a sense of disorder, those who crave cognitive closure, may be even more reliant on those cognitive shortcuts to make sense of the world” says Marta Marchlewska.
A recent study from National Geographic showed that around 50 percent of Americans had a higher stress level during Covid-19.
So, how can you help people who have started to believe conspiracy theories? Research done by the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) shows unfortunately it is pretty hard to convince people what they think is wrong. One thing not to do is tell the person they are lying. Rather encourage them to use their own critical thinking skills. Ask them questions that allow them to see different points of view. You do not want to be dismissive, judgemental or belittling. It can create emotional differences between both of you and they are less likely to trust you. But above all of that make sure your loved ones are safe.