January 06, 2017

A freemason symbol. Which is NOT evidence of a conspiracy. Credit: Michael Foley / Flickr Creative Commons

The illuminati. Lizard people. The JFK assassination. Pizzagate. Conspiracy theories are all around us, and it can seem like they’re becoming more and more a part of our culture. (After all, President-elect Trump gave an interview to a man who thinks the Sandy Hook shooting was faked).

But what type of person believes in conspiracy theories? And why? Rob Brotherton is a psychologist and author of the book Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories. He clears up a few misconceptions for us.

Three Takeaways:

  • Conspiracy theorists AREN’T all deranged weirdos. According to Brotherton: “We have this stereotype of conspiracy theorists as this handful of people who live in basements and make posts in all caps on internet forums, but that’s really not the case. There are a few of those people, but when you think of a conspiracy theorist, you should think of your friends, your family, someone you meet on the street.”
  • There are psychological reasons why we believe in conspiracy theories. One of the biggest is the proportionality bias. “When something big happens in the world, we look for a proportionally big explanation,” Brotherton says. “When something relatively small and mundane happens, we're satisfied with a relatively small explanation.”
  • Conspiracy theories have been around for a while. One of the very first conspiracy theories was the idea that Nero fiddled as Rome burned. Nevermind that there was no evidence that he did this, lots of people at the time believed it to be true.

More Reading:

Body & Mind, Conspiracy Theories, Rob Brotherton

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