Wednesday, December 4, 2013

How Do People Believe in Conspiracy Theories?

I recently came across this fascinating article by William Saletan, Inside the Minds of the JFK Conspiracy Theorists, trying to understand conspiracy theorists, the types of people who think there is some sort of sinister cabal secretly running the entire world. 

Conspiracy theory psychology is becoming an empirical field with a broader mission: to understand why so many people embrace this way of interpreting history. As you'd expect, distrust turns out to be an important factor. But it's not the kind of distrust that cultivates critical thinking.

Mr. Saletan discusses some research which seems to suggest that conspiracy theorists tend to indiscriminately distrust people in authority.

They also seem to have
a tendency to focus on intention and agency, rather than randomness or causal complexity. In extreme form, it can become paranoia. In mild form, it's a common weakness known as the fundamental attribution error – ascribing others' behaviour to personality traits and objectives, forgetting the importance of situational factors and chance. Suspicion, imagination, and fantasy are closely related. 
The more you see the world this way - full of malice and planning instead of circumstance and coincidence - the more likely you are to accept conspiracy theories of all kinds. Once you buy into the first theory, with its premises of coordination, efficacy, and secrecy, the next seems that much more plausible.
It is a fascinating article.

The COGs have a long history dealing with conspiracy theorists. At one point in the 1990s Meredith's Global Church of God had a split in which many conspiracy theorists were kicked out to prevent it from falling into ill repute. Alas many of those once associated with HWA's WCG have fallen into these sorts of delusional thinking.

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