Why Do We Fall For Conspiracy Theories

Every major event of the twentieth century has them attached like glue. Conspiracy theories. From way back to the Lindbergh baby, the JFK assassination and the lunar landing you can find them. Recently they have regained momentum with things like climate change, plane crashes, 911, Sandy Hook, the Vegas shootings and now Parkland Florida. It makes you wonder where the collective head of over half the American population is. These theories can’t easily be explained away with cries of fake news either. These ‘theories’ gain momentum from the ground up, sometimes even before news cameras start rolling.

Just last week Parkland high school student David Hogg, one of the most outspoken of all the amazing Parkland kids, was accused of being an “actor”. Accused of being hired to further the anti-gun position of the democrats. In the midst of all the pain and suffering, all the amazing positive activism coming out of the hurt, someone has to bring in the hate. Like all the other mass casualty events that preceded it Parkland was being turned into someone’s political agenda. It makes you wonder how people can look at the face of these mothers, mothers whose kids have just been killed in cold blood and accuse them of being “actors”. Are people seriously that heartless?

To understand this we have to take a look at why people believe conspiracy theories.  British psychologist Karen Douglas breaks her theory of why down to three main reasons; To understand the world around us, to feel secure and in control and to maintain a positive self-image.

To understand the world around us; We all seek answers we can understand. People who fall easily into the allure of conspiracy theories seem to overcompensate for their fear of what they don’t understand. It’s easier for them to say these people are actors, then to wrap their heads around the fact someone could actually commit such a heinous act. We all can fall prey to false beliefs, but people who grasp on to these conspiracies have a vested interest in maintaining them. To them conspiracy theories offer a level of understanding to things they can’t understand.

To feel secure and in control; that really goes with the above. Like everyone’s crazy uncle Eddie, people feel the need to control the conversation and feel important. Maybe they don’t completely grasp the information presented, and they need to make sense of the situation. Either way, flawed information, and lots of suspect internet research, takes up space in their thinking.

Maintain a positive self-image; this is a key point. Educational levels play a huge role here. People who can’t grasp the concept and have an illogical argument often fall back on easy to digest conspiracy theories. It’s easier for them to spew facts that sound good, then have something they need to back up. Political ideology plays heavily into this. The more radical you are in your beliefs, either right or left, the more likely you are to buy into conspiracies.

Other factors also play a huge role. One is the concept of “collective narcissism”. You believe that the group you most identify with is superior to others. You see this with the ‘crowd mentality’ and other mass protests. People are easily swept up in the emotion of the movement, and follow along with the crowd, no matter how flawed the crowds thinking might be. And most importantly in our society today is the viral media. This encompasses all of the social media platforms and uses something called the ‘illusory truth effect’. This effect allows for the phenomenon that the more times a lie is repeated, makes it more likely to be identified as the truth. This is what happened with David Hogg and the viral video that was posted.

None of these theories in any way excuses the behavior that conspiracy theories elicit from many people. To accuse grieving parents of lying, of staging attacks for political gain, is sickening. To manipulate facts to make people look like liars or pawns in some game is inexcusable. To accuse the media of liking mass shootings for ratings, is disgusting. The fact that a lot of politicians keep conspiracy theories going for their own gain is reprehensible.

Critical thinking skills, research, and common sense, goes a long way in dispelling these theories. A government who constantly touts the media as “fake”, and marginalizes certain sections of society only contributes to an environment where these mindsets can thrive. Though conspiracy theories are nothing new, in our age of digital media and instant information sharing they take off faster and seem to have more credibility. What we can do is stop sharing things without first checking the credibility of the source. Step back and take a breath before we let our emotions dictate what we are going to believe. Do a little leg work and check things out for ourselves. If something sounds really out there, it most likely is. Demand social media companies to be more mindful of the information they link to and share, just because it’s the first thing to pop up on a google search doesn’t mean it’s true.

Most importantly stand up for the truth. Stand up for the kids in Parkland and let people know that they are the real victims in all this. Stand up for all the mothers in Newtown Ct. who lost their precious children. Stand up for all the 911 victims. Stand up for everyone who has fallen victim to a senseless rumor. By no means take everything anyone tells you as gospel, but look at things with a critical eye and an open mind. Remember that as Americans we all need to stand together.

**Taken from Psychologytoday.com

Why Do People Believe in Conspiracy Theories by, David Ludden (PhD)


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