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The Psychological Make-Up of Conspiracy Theorists

It doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you

If you aren’t prone to understanding the world through the lens of conspiracy, it may be hard to understand the logic. After 9/11, an array of conspiracies circulated asserting that it didn’t really happen the way the government says it happened. The hole in the side of the Pentagon was too small to be a fuselage. I read it was from the landing gear. Same thing with the lunar landing, that it was done in a studio. The flag on the moon was waving, and there is no wind on the moon. I read that vibrations can be transmitted from ground, to flag, to flagpole. If you have a way to question the science, logic holds no power. There is always a way to fool people, always. The feelings we get when someone believes in a nonsensical conspiracy is complex. Confusion, helplessness, annoyance, amusement perhaps, and others.

Evolution and ambiguity

Regardless of the scenario, one of the cornerstones of conspiracy is mistrust of authority, and a strong feeling that on a mass scale, one is being deceived, tricked. What is presented as real, is not real. What others believe is real is Kool-aid, and me — I know the truth, we know the truth. Paranoia and grandiosity are the hallmarks of TV and movie depictions of conspiracy theorists, usually out to save themselves, the world, a specific stakeholder, or all of the above. There is a kind of security in knowing the truth, even if we’re wrong. It’s easy now to find thousands of people who believe the same thing, and as with corrosive hate-based belief systems, truth becomes irrelevant as the agenda takes precedence over historical reality.

Investigating the psychological traits of conspiracy theorists

What are the psychological characteristics of people prone to see conspiracies where others accept more or less at face value the reality presented? With this question in mind, researchers Hart and Graether (2018) conducted 2 studies — with similar designs but a larger pool of people in the second one and relatively minor changes in methodology, to increase the power of the study — to sort out which of the several proposed factors identified in prior research are most highly correlated with conspiracy theorizing.

We aren’t rational, but we could be

The results of these studies suggest that, all other factors being equal, conspiracy theorists are likely to have more schizotypal traits and hold beliefs that the world is dangerous and likely to end — and are more likely to read profundity into nonsense, a phenomenon magnified by our generally poor understanding of logic and statistics. Conspiracy theorists are, on average, less likely to hold a scientific worldview, but there may be exceptions to that — someone whose conspiracy includes a strong science component to justify it — and the role of religious belief needs more investigation.

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Psychiatrist, Psychoanalyst, Entrepreneur, Writer, Speaker, Advocate

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