Blog Post #4 – Inquiry Research Round #2 – Why do people believe in conspiracy theories?

Why are people drawn to and create conspiracy theories?

Conspiracy theories. In this current age, I would be quite confident saying that virtually everyone reading this knows what they are. Strange ideas, farfetched conclusions, “connect-the-dots” thinking. I would also be confident in saying that practically all of you reading this know how dangerous these theories can be to society and the passing of information, or more accurately, misinformation. But do you know why we are drawn to and why we create conspiracy theories? That is exactly what I will be writing about today.

Humans are a highly intelligent species. Some would argue that we are the most intelligent species and they might be right. But that most definitely is not stopping us from believing in conspiracy theories, it might actually be the main reason we do so. It might be shocking to learn that, during the emergence of information on HIV, it was a prevalent belief in the United States that the virus was in reality a plot to kill citizens; 34% of people in a study that included both minority and nonminority groups even believed that the U.S. government created AIDS to kill people from minority groups [1]. But in reality, this study should not be that big of a shock.

Conspiracy theories are not a new thing. These theories have always been with us, we have always been suspicious of possible hostile actions [2]. In reality, paranoia is one of the main pillars of humanity, all the way since the beginning. Until recently, our species was a group of hunter gatherers, a role that necessitated an “ability to recognize and mitigate various threats” [1]. Danger lurked around every corner and if you were not careful, you were like to die relatively quickly. Because of this, natural selection began to select for individuals that had the capacity to be suspicious of nearly everything [4] and had the habit of imagining what could be, not what probably was.

Of course, we are no longer the same humans that were hundreds of thousands of years ago, but the paranoia that our ancestors evolved with is still very much with us. Throughout the years, ever since the days of cavemen, humans have used conspiracy theories as a method of organizing and comprehending the modern world [3]. Essentially, conspiracy theories are ways that we try to explain things that we do not understand [5]. We create them to attempt to exert control over events, crises, or systems that seem overwhelming or overly complex [3], a way that we can reduce confusion and gain as much knowledge as possible, even if the knowledge is unreliable and/or unsubstantiated. But why do some people seem to be fooled by conspiracy theories more than the average individual? In my next research round, I will touch on that topic and delve into why some groups and types of people seem to be at a far higher risk of being drawn towards unproven information instead of substantiated and well-researched knowledge.

References:

[1] https://ps.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.ps.202000348

[2] https://www.apa.org/research/action/speaking-of-psychology/conspiracy-theories

[3] https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/02/why-do-people-believe-in-conspiracy-theories.html

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6420131/

[5] http://hum.port.ac.uk/europeanstudieshub/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Module-4-extract-1-Why-theorise-at-all.pdf

Featured Image: Franziska Barczyk

3 Replies to “Blog Post #4 – Inquiry Research Round #2 – Why do people believe in conspiracy theories?”

  1. Hi Victor!
    Very interesting post! All your information is well-written and detailed as well.

    I’ve pasted a link below for why people are attracted by these conspiracy theories. ( I watched a couple of weeks ago and it is very interesting)
    https://youtu.be/ru4yrQFH1Uc

    Looking forward to your future posts,
    Lokshana 🙂

  2. Hi Victor!

    I really liked your post, the way your organised the information made it a nice read. I think it’s very interesting that conspiracy theories stem from our primitive instincts.

    I was wondering if you’ve looked into cognitive bias during your research (I may have already mentioned it a previous comment). It’s essentially the idea that people are more likely to accept information as the truth if it confirms their beliefs. I’ll link a quick explanation to it below. I’ve also heard of people’s perception of the truth being warped by social media algorithms, since we tend to only be exposed to things that match up with out beliefs. I think this is referred to as the echo chamber effect.

    About the echo chamber: https://advertising.utexas.edu/news/what-social-media-echo-chamber#:~:text=A%20social%20media%20echo%20chamber%20is%20when%20one,filtering%20it%20through%20our%20preexisting%20beliefs%20and%20opinions.

    About cognitive bias:
    https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/cognitive-bias#common-types

    Good luck on your future posts,
    Jasmine 🙂

    • Thanks for the great comment Jasmine! I absolutely have heard of cognitive bias and I believe that it is one of the most damaging aspect of human psychology. Completing my research for my inquiry project really helped me delve more into the topic, which lead me to understand that while cognitive bias is not the main cause of conspiracy theories, it is normally the main reason that people cannot seem to distance themselves from the ideologies and unsubstantiated ideas; they force themselves into a place where only what they already believe is confirmed, even if the “proof” is completely false.

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