Scientific American: Why People Believe in Conspiracy Theories

Sander van der Linden, in a Scientific American post, reviews the environment of conspiracism and psychology detailing the correlates with adhering to the conspiracist world-view as: believing in other contradictory conspiracies; “higher-order beliefs” (such as general distrust of authority); rejection of mainstream science; and disengagement from society and politics, which they attribute (to some degree) to “fundamental attribution error,” where people are biased towards seeing most events as intentional.

Sander makes an interesting point about conspiracy memes and culture, softening the negative correlates in the article:

“Yet, such pathological explanations have proven to be widely insufficient because conspiracy theories are not just the implausible visions of a paranoid minority. For example, a national poll released just this month reports that 37 percent of Americans believe that global warming is a hoax, 21 percent think that the US government is covering up evidence of alien existence and 28 percent believe a secret elite power with a globalist agenda is conspiring to rule the world.”

This ties in with my recent paper on psychological religious disorders [], where I found that clinicians could only diagnose belief as delusion if it wasn’t one “…ordinarily accepted by other members of the individual’s culture or subculture (e.g., it is not an article of religious faith).”

Interesting read. Check it out:


1 thought on “Scientific American: Why People Believe in Conspiracy Theories

  1. I have a different theory of mind which I think explains the capacity of the human mind to do these things. Consciousness is essentially the final step in comparing data to understand what is being experienced. We experience the world through a simulation that is running in our heads and do not ‘see’ or ‘feel’ it directly. This simulation requires rules in order to process the vast quantities of data pouring in from sensors. The difference between critical thinking and conspiracy nut (in large part) is the level of questioning causal actions. I am convinced that testing can determine reliably the likelihood that someone will be a conspiracy nut. The reason is simple. The conspiracy nut trusts all data sources, almost without question…. until that data source suggests something that is not fathomable by the simulation rules in that person’s mind. Flying to space is terribly technical. Crashing planes into buildings is gobsmackingly stunning and unbelievable and so on. There must, to these poor creatures, be a more ‘down to earth’ explanation. Conspiracy theories rely on there being a group of people who can outsmart the theorist, whose nefarious deeds explain what they cannot themselves understand. They go to ridiculous lengths to maintain an understandable causal source because to the conscious mind changing the rules of the simulation is painful. The loss of control and confusion it causes can cause actual bodily pain – or so it is as perceived.

    No, no, no.. that is not how the world works. People don’t crash planes into buildings and commit suicide. It’s too complex because there are so many rules and flying planes is very difficult. The government has all the skills and money needed! They would do false flag programs! They did this!

    The fear of pain of change is enough to cause them to stubbornly not look for real answers and truth. Change is pain. Changing the rules of the simulation to account for 9/11 means understanding that we are not really safe. The world is not a big romper room with protective padding. The complexity of the thoughts ensured by changing the rules means they will fight against them. The human brain would rather be stupid than depressed and in pain. No, that was not a bite at reality tv…. not on purpose.

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