Do you believe the moon landing was faked? Do you suspect the 9/11 attacks were a government cover up?
Turns out, if you’re an avid conspiracy theorist, you could be doing it for attention.
According to new research, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, some people like believing in conspiracy theories because of a need for uniqueness. In other words, they like to be different, and so take on beliefs that are out of the ordinary.
It’s similar to when people take up unusual hobbies that set them apart from others. That person on Reddit with a weird idea of what shape the Earth is could actually feel special or above average because they think they’ve figured something out that the majority of others haven’t.
Being in on the conspiracy theories may make people feel like they are part of a secret society that has all the answers.
To test this theory, a research team from Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany conducted a series of studies to see how the need for uniqueness could prompt people to believe conspiracies more.
Believing one conspiracy theory makes it more likely you’ll believe another.
In the first study, 238 people were assessed for their need for uniqueness, and their endorsement of 99 conspiracy theories. The results showed that believing one conspiracy theory makes it more likely you’ll believe another, and that there was a correlation between this endorsement and the need to not follow the crowd.
I’ve discussed here and here how practitioners of paranormal piffle wish to look scientific. They fail under actual scientific scrutiny but, we have to admit, they are pretty effective at bamboozling the public with a sciencey show.
I came across a news story in Business Insider about an astrologer who was doing mighty well for herself. In times of uncertainty, society tends to turn to anything that will give them a sense of control. Astrologic and psychic advisors seem to fill that role for some people, even professional businesspeople. This astrologer, who thinks quite highly of her craft, had these things to say:
“What I do is scientific. Astrology involves careful methods learned over years and years of training and experience.”
“There are so many things we don’t understand in the world. What if 200 years ago someone had said that these metal barrels in the sky would get us around the world in a few hours? Or that we’d inject ourselves with mold to treat illnesses? People are so skeptical.”
And then I laughed.
Few examples of pseudoscience are more perfect than astrology, which has been studied A LOT, and whose practitioners still cannot demonstrate a root in reality.