Page 8 - The 'X' Chronicles Newspaper - March 2019
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8           What Drives People To Conspiracy Theories

              Conspiracy Theories:

                Here's What Drives

               People To Them, No

                Matter How Wacky

                   by William Cummings

          Wake up, sheeple.
                 Right now, there are networks of
          passionate and committed people across the
          world working to subvert some of our deepest-
          held beliefs and upend the established world
                 They're called conspiracy theorists.
          They walk among us.  They could be your
          friends, neighbors or loved ones. Who knows?
          You may even be one yourself.
                 There seems to be a conspiracy being
          "uncovered" all the time these days, and no
          matter how outlandish they may be they seem to
          have no trouble drawing in ardent believers.
                 Despite     the    prevalence     and
          pervasiveness of conspiracy theories, the       female, rich or poor, well educated or not.    Conspiracy theories as coping
          reasons people are drawn to them is a relatively       To some extent, the human brain is
          new area of study for psychologists.            wired to find conspiracy theories appealing.   mechanism?
                 Jan-Willem van Prooijen, an associate    People are highly evolved when it comes to the
          professor at the Department of Social and       ability to draw conclusions and predict        One reason for the pervasiveness of conspiracy
          Organizational Psychology at  VU University     consequences based on sensory data and         theories is that they serve an important
          Amsterdam, said research into the phenomenon    observation. But sometimes those same          psychological function for people trying to cope
          has really only taken off in the last seven years.   processes can lead to oversimplifications and  with large, stressful events like a terrorist attack.
                 According to University of Chicago       misperception through what psychologists refer        People "need to blame the anxiety that
          political science professors Eric Oliver and    to as "cognitive bias," van Prooijen said.     they feel on different groups and the result is
          Thomas Wood, in any given year roughly half            Among the cognitive biases  Van         frequently conspiracy theories," van Prooijen
          of Americans believe in at least one conspiracy  Prooijen and other psychologists believe      said, defining the term as a belief that "a group
          theory.  Their 2014 study found that 19% of     contribute to the appeal of conspiracy theories  of actors is colluding in secret in order to reach
          Americans believed the U.S. government          are:                                           goals that are considered evil or malevolent."
          planned the 9/11 attacks to start a war in the   •  Confirmation bias: People's willingness to        One reason for the pervasiveness of
          Middle East, 24% believed former president         accept explanations that fit what they      conspiracy theories is that they serve an
          Barack Obama was not born in the United            already believe.                            important psychological function for people
          States, and 25% believed  Wall Street bankers    •  Proportionality bias:  The inclination to  trying to cope with large, stressful events like a
          conspired to cause the financial crisis that began  believe that big events must have big      terrorist attack.
          in 2008.  Those are high numbers considering       causes.                                            People "need to blame the anxiety that
          there is zero evidence to support any of those   •  Illusory pattern perception: The tendency to  they feel on different groups and the result is
          theories.                                          see causal relations where there may not be  frequently conspiracy theories," van Prooijen
                 And a whopping 61% said they do not         any.                                        said, defining the term as a belief that "a group
          believe the official conclusion of the  Warren                                                 of actors is colluding in secret in order to reach
          Commission that Lee Harvey Oswald acted                Yet there are factors that make some    goals that are considered evil or malevolent."
          alone in assassinating President John F.        people more or less inclined to accept                "People don’t like it when things are
          Kennedy, according to a 2013 Gallup poll. The   conspiracy theories.                           really random. Randomness is more threatening
          number has not dropped below 50% since                 People with greater knowledge of the    than having an enemy. You can prepare for an
          Gallup began polling on the subject just after  news media are less likely to believe conspiracy  enemy, you can’t prepare for coincidences."
          the 1963 tragedy.                               theories, according to a new study, “News             Conspiracy theories also appeal to
                 President Trump himself has expressed    Media Literacy and Conspiracy  Theory          people's need to feel special and unique because
          a belief in at least two of the above conspiracies  Endorsement,” in the current issue of      it gives them a sense of possessing secret
          at one time or another. He was the most vocal   Communication and the Public.                  knowledge, according to a study in the July
          proponent of the baseless claim that Obama was         “It’s significant that knowledge about  2017 edition of Social Psychology.
          not born in  America, and during the 2016       the news media — not beliefs about it, but
          Republican primary campaign, Trump implied      knowledge of basic facts about structure,                              (Continued on Page 9)
          Sen. Ted Cruz's father was connected to Oswald  content and effects — is associated with less
          and the Kennedy killing. Trump has also said    likelihood one will fall prey to a conspiracy
          climate change is a Chinese-manufactured hoax   theory, even a theory that is in line with one’s
          meant to hurt U.S. industry. His characterization  political ideology,” co-author Stephanie Craft, a
          of Russian election meddling as a "made-up      University of Illinois journalism professor, told
          story" designed to discredit his election victory  the Columbia Journalism Review.
          was deemed 2017's lie of the year by fact-             Oliver believes the greatest predictor of
          checker Politifact last week.                   people's likelihood to accept conspiracy

                                                          theories is the degree to which they rely on their
          Everyone's a suspect                            intuition over analytical thinking.
                                                                 "They go with their gut feelings.
          Conspiracy theorists can be conservative,       They’re very susceptible to symbols and
          liberal or any other political stripe — male or  metaphors," he said.
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