According to psychological research, conspiracy theorists tend to score higher on measures of paranoia, distrust, and cynicism. They are more likely to have a suspicious and skeptical view of the world which can make them more likely to see hidden motives and conspiracies in events and the actions of others. The belief in conspiracy theories is multifaceted.
What research helps explain some people’s belief in conspiracy theories?
There are several psychological factors that contribute to why some people believe in conspiracy theories. One is the need for a sense of control and predictability. Conspiracy theories may offer a sense of control and predictability in a complex and uncertain world. By attributing events to a hidden, powerful force, people can feel like they understand why things are happening and that they have some control over their fate.
A variety of cognitive biases, such as the tendency to seek out information that confirms their existing beliefs and ignore information that contradicts them help influence people’s beliefs and reasoning. This can lead to a reinforcement of conspiracy beliefs and resistance to accepting evidence-based explanations.
People may be more likely to believe in conspiracy theories if they have a low level of trust in mainstream institutions. These usually include the government and media. Believers may view these institutions as untrustworthy or corrupt. This forces them to turn to alternative sources of information that support their beliefs.
Conspiracy theories can provide a sense of uniqueness and identity, particularly for individuals who feel marginalized or disconnected from mainstream society. Believing in a conspiracy theory can make people feel special and part of a group with shared beliefs.
People are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories when other believers are part of their social circle. Social influence can be a powerful motivator too. Most people are often more likely to adopt beliefs and attitudes that are prevalent within their social network.
A complex context
Research on the belief in conspiracy theories suggests that there’s more to it than just a lack of critical thinking or an overactive imagination. Instead, people’s belief in conspiracy theories may be rooted in deeper psychological processes and motivations.
According to psychological research, conspiracy theorists tend to score higher on measures of paranoia, distrust, and cynicism. They are more likely to have a suspicious and skeptical view of the world. This can make them more likely to see hidden motives and conspiracies in events and the actions of others.
Additionally, research has shown that conspiracy theorists tend to have a unique information-processing style, characterized by a tendency to selectively attend to and remember information that supports their beliefs, and to ignore or discount information that contradicts their beliefs. This can lead to a reinforcement of conspiracy beliefs and a resistance to accepting evidence-based explanations.
The cultural context for conspiracy theories
In a research article from Frontiers in Psychology (cited below) was conducted in three countries. Researchers assessed participants based on their levels of paranoia, conspiracy mentality, and mistrust of different institutions (e.g. government, media, science).
The results revealed that different forms of mistrust are associated with paranoid beliefs and conspiracy mentality. Paranoid beliefs associate more strongly with mistrust of government and interpersonal relationships, while conspiracy mentality associates more strongly with mistrust of media and science. — WTF fun facts