Chemtrails, Aliens, and Illuminati—The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories

conspiracy theory

Does your otherwise sensible friend believe “chemtrails” are part of a sinister government plot? The psychology behind believing in conspiracy theories is fascinating. Some may even have biological causes.

By Jade Wu, PhD Savvy Psychologist

At a dinner party last year, I was casually saying how silly I thought my brother-in-law was for believing in chemtrails when a couple, whom I considered to be very reasonable people, responded that the government really does use them for population control. To be fair, they were shocked that I, a person they thought to be very reasonable, refuse to set up Face ID on my iPhone because I’m pretty sure “they” will use it for surveillance, even though I’m not sure who “they” are.

Conspiracy theories have always fascinated me. When I was thirteen, I worshiped Blink-182 and nodded along to Tom DeLonge’s theories about Area 51. Now that I’m older and a psychologist, I’m much more interested in the psychology of how and why people believe in conspiracy theories.

What are conspiracy theories?

First, let’s define the term. A conspiracy theory is a non-mainstream explanation for something about the world that involves secret, powerful, and often sinister groups. It’s speculative, meaning it’s not based on verified facts. It’s often complex. (Just think of that meme of Charlie from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia madly gesturing at crisscrossing strings on a wall crammed with “evidence.”) It usually includes negative and distrustful beliefs about an “other.”

A conspiracy theory is a non-mainstream explanation for something about the world that involves secret, powerful, and often sinister groups.

And importantly, a conspiracy theory is not falsifiable—any evidence against the theory would be chalked up to a cover-up, paradoxically reinforcing the theory. When scientists try to reassure people that chemtrails consist only of normal water vapor, a hardcore chemtrail believer might conclude that scientists have been bought by the government to lie to the people.

This episode is not going to debunk (or bunk) any specific conspiracy theories. After all, I’m no expert on airplane contrails or moon landings. But it turns out that, whether they’re true or not, the psychology of conspiracy theories is fascinating. (Spoiler alert: Sleep disorders might be involved in alien abduction conspiracy theories!)

But let’s start with the basics.

Why do people believe in conspiracy theories?

Psychologists specializing in conspiracy theories believe that people have three main motivations for believing in conspiracy theories, whether or not they’re aware of these motivations.

1. The need to reduce uncertainty and make sense of the world

The world can be a scary and overwhelming place. Events often seem random; talking heads on TV don’t agree on basic facts; there are gaps in our understanding of how injustices and disasters come about. For all of us, there are days when nothing seems to make sense.

When a conspiracy theory comes along, claiming to make sense of the insensible, it can be quite appealing.

When a conspiracy theory comes along, claiming to make sense of the insensible, it can be quite appealing. Research shows that when people feel a strong sense of uncertainty, they’re more likely to believe in conspiracy theories. This is especially true for those who have a high need for cognitive closure—in other words, they feel deeply uncomfortable if they don’t get answers.

2. The need to feel safe and have a sense of control

Related to making sense of the world, we also have a deep need to feel safe and like we have control over our environment.

Conspiracy theories can offer a psychological island to land on when we’re treading water. They offer some concreteness when we feel helpless about our lives. Perhaps someone’s child has unexplained health issues. Believing in a conspiracy about how pharmaceutical companies are purposely using vaccines to make kids sick might seem appealing for desperate parents. Deciding to refuse vaccines gives them some sense of control.

Conspiracy theories offer the opportunity to reject official narratives, affording some small solace.

People who lack control in other areas of life—employment, financial future, social prejudice—may similarly feel like they don’t have a safe or valued space in the world. In fact, people who feel like they have low socio-political control are more susceptible to believing in conspiracies. This makes sense—conspiracy theories offer the opportunity to reject official narratives, affording some small solace.

3. The need to maintain a good self-image

Another reason people who feel left behind or left out are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories is that these unfounded beliefs offer a way to maintain a positive self-image…

more…

https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/psychology-conspiracy-theories

F. Kaskais Web Guru

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