Blog Post #6 – Reflection – Why do people believe in conspiracy theories?

a. What challenges did you overcome throughout this inquiry project? How did you go about overcoming these challenges?

Ironically, many of the challenges that I faced throughout the making of this inquiry project were to do with confirmation bias, one of the main points I brought up in my third research round. This bias makes it so that people will look for information not to make an informed decision, but to back up their pre-existing notions; I would be a fool if I did not assume that this bias would play an important part in my research into the topic. While I believe that the references I used to gather information for my research rounds were reliable and well-informed, I cannot know for sure if they are truly unbiased and do not use what they believe instead of what is proven to back up their points. On top of this, projection, another bias I brought up, could have also been a factor in decreasing the accuracy of my information. Projection makes it so people will, without evidence, make claims that others are doing a “bad” thing that they themselves are actually doing (in essence it is a type of denial.) This bias could lead some people, even ones that should know better or who are qualified to speak on a certain topic, to make imprecise claims based on their own actions and how they view them. While it is virtually impossible to guarantee perfectly accurate information, I believe the way I went about overcoming these challenges worked out quite well. To overcome them, I looked for information from qualified individuals, and I also looked for counterpoints. Like I mentioned in my project, people that bring up points that contradict their overall opinion are far more likely to be basing their claims on fact and not on feeling, making their information far more accurate. These people believe in their opinion, but they likely got to that opinion not through feeling, but through well-rounded research.

b. How did this inquiry change the way you think?

This inquiry project changed the way I think by educating me on the reasons for which certain individuals believe so firmly in conspiracy theories. Before starting this project, my insistent opinion was that people that believe in conspiracy theories were simply stupid. While intelligence may play a factor, there are more important factors, such as critical thinking skills, that influence people’s premature acceptance of certain conspiracies. The issue is that most individuals are not born with these skills, they must learn them, which makes education integral. Coincidentally, places that have little access to high-quality education, or really any at all, contain far more people that believe in conspiracy theories. These include poor countries, like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but also include relatively rich areas like Kentucky and Alabama in the United States. While these areas have the money to fund high-quality education, their politicians refuse to do so and instead prefer to incorporate anti-intellectualist and pro-Christian policies. Due to these policies and the general lack of interest in changing them, places like the two previously mentioned states continue to be plagued by conspiracy theories, all the while existing in a first-world country.

c. How did this investigation impact your future decisions?

This investigation will impact my future decisions by making me far more cautious and critical of what I believe in. Throughout my research, I read many stories about intelligent individuals who got tricked into believing a conspiracy theory, leading them down a strange and sometimes destructive path. In these instances, one conspiracy theory leads to another and eventually these formally logical people are posting crazy, untrue information on social media and going on tirades about what they mistakenly believe, alienating their friends and family members. This behaviour sometimes also leads to them losing their job and can really destroy someone’s life. While I believe that I was already cautious before I started this inquiry project, I am now far more so. On top of this, when I see a theory floating around and want to check its validity, I will follow this checklist:

  1. Does this theory “connect the dots”, where different events that have no real reason to be connected are somehow linked together with tons of mental gymnastics?
  2. Does the “bad person” in the theory need to be some sort of superhuman to pull off the feats they are accused of?
  3. Is the theory too complex, with an incredible amount of elements and/or people that all fell into the exact “right place” at the “right time”?
  4. Does the theory contain ideas of “world domination” or some other sort of grand ambition of absolute supremacy over a nation, economy or political system?
  5. Does the theory assume that something that occurred in a relatively small event is now happening in a much larger, much less likely event, or does it portray seemingly small and insignificant events with meanings that are sinister, yet are backed up with little to no proof?
  6. Does the theory consistently commingle speculations and unproven ideas with fact, assuming all of it must be true?
  7. Does the theory deem virtually all private groups and/or government agencies as suspicious and/or untrustworthy, suggesting an inability on the part of the theorist to distinguish differences between true and false conspiracy theories?
  8. Does the theory seem to only mention facts that prove its ideas and never considers any other solution, explanation, or evidence that disconfirms its assumptions (confirmation bias)?

If I answer yes to any of these questions while I am analyzing a conspiracy, I will assume it is false or inaccurate.

d. What impact will this investigation have on others locally and/or globally?

I believe that this investigation will impact others locally and globally by helping everyone better understand the psychology of conspiracy theories. This is important because conspiracy theories and how common they are is an incredibly relevant and detrimental issue. It seems like every other day there is a new, unfounded and ridiculous theory on social media with hundreds of people (or even more) backing it. In an age where the internet now provides access to large amounts of information at the click of a button, large-scale conspiracy theories should be a thing of the past, yet they are not. By completing this investigation, I have provided readers with the information and the proof of why critical thinking skills and education are so integral for the development of logical thinking. On top of this, I have given readers ways that they may use to avoid getting tricked into believing a conspiracy theory themselves. All in all, I feel that this investigation will help anyone who reads it, close or far, all about this relevant phenomenon that has so many people confused as to why it is so widespread.


Featured Image: Matthew Phelan

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