What makes certain people predisposed to believing conspiracy theories?
If you have read my previous post, you will know that I have already researched why people are drawn to conspiracy theories. In that post, I mentioned that humans are drawn to and create conspiracy theories due in large part to our curiosity and deeply engrained paranoia; we want to explain the world even when we do not have enough information to do so. But then you might ask: If we already know why humans are drawn to conspiracy theories, why make this post? My answer is that this post has a different focus. The focus of this research round is why certain individuals seem to easily believe conspiracy theories and in turn dedicate their time and effort to spreading the misinformation. What makes them different?
All conspiracy theories arise from uncertainty, yet somehow virtually all conspiracy theories become widespread due to “confirmation bias”, the certainty that a particular action or event is taking place, even if very little or no evidence is there. This cognitive bias leads people with very strong, deeply ingrained beliefs on a subject to “give more weight to evidence that supports what [they] already believe and ignore evidence that contradicts [their] beliefs”. Another important cognitive bias that should be mentioned is the “proportionality bias”. This innate human tendency pushes us to assume that large-scale events are caused by large-scale causes, which causes some of us to create conspiracies (i.e. President John F. Kennedy being the victim of a large-scale conspiracy instead of a deranged lone gunman) . On top of this, there is also the cognitive bias called “projection” to take into account. This cognitive bias causes some to “unconsciously [take] unwanted emotions or traits [they] don’t like about [themselves] and attributing them to someone else” . Due to this, people who project their feelings may have a higher chance of endorsing conspiracy theories that have to do with activity (likely immoral) that they partake in themselves. In essence, the thinking is: if you would engage in such behaviour, it is probably quite natural .
On top of these cognitive biases, which are more prevalent with particular individuals, certain personality traits may also be at play. Dr. Josh Hart, an associate professor of psychology, believes that “people with certain personality traits and cognitive styles are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories”. He says that “[people that believe in conspiracy theories] tend to be more suspicious, untrusting, eccentric, needing to feel special, with a tendency to regard the world as an inherently dangerous place”, and may detect patterns where there are none to be detected. A research report released by Dr. Hart showed that a combination of traits called “schizotypy” was commonly present in people who consistently believed in conspiracies , a group of characteristics that consisted principally of “peculiar, eccentric or unusual thinking, beliefs or mannerisms” . In his report, Mr. Hart also mentions that, because conspiracy theories tend to be dark and “gloomy”, pessimistic individuals who see the world as evil and unjust will have a higher chance of believing in them because it allows said people to possibly find some comfort in “the notion that there is someone, or some small group of people, responsible for it all” .
All in all, conspiracy theories and why some believe in them is a complicated subject. We humans have an intrinsic need to feel secure, knowledgeable, safe, and in control, so in crisis, when these needs are frustrated, conspiracies can offer some relief, some understanding; essentially, the world can be overwhelming at times and explanations for possibly random events can be a way to cope. While some individuals may struggle more than others with being sucked into conspiracy theories, such as pessimistic people and people with schizotypy, virtually anyone can be tricked into believing one of these ridiculous and unproven claims. This information may seem stressful, but you should take comfort in knowing that there are numerous ways to avoid being tricked yourself. These include turning off the news, or whatever else is making you anxious, practicing critical thinking, changing your perspective, and doing at least one task a day that makes you feel in control . With these tips and the knowledge that no one is immune to believing conspiracies, I hope that you may be able to avoid a potentially dangerous situation.
Featured Image: John Bodner, Wendy Welch, Ian Brodie, Anna Muldoon, Donald Leach, and Ashley Marshall