Psychologists are trying to determine why otherwise rational individuals can make the leap from “prudent paranoia” to illogical conspiracy theories
According to a Public Policy Polling survey, around 12 million people in the US believe that interstellar lizards in people suits rule our country. We imported that particular belief from across the pond, where professional conspiracy theorist David Icke has long maintained that the Queen of England is a blood-drinking, shape-shifting alien.
Conspiracy theories in general are not necessary bad, according to psychologists who study them. “If we were all completely trusting, it would not be good for survival,” explains Rob Brotherton, an academic psychologist and author of Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories. “Sometimes people really don’t have our best interests in mind.”
But when people leap from thinking their boss is trying to undermine them to believing their boss might be a secret lizard person, they probably cross from what psychologists refer to as “prudent paranoia” into illogical territory.
And there are a lot of illogical ideas to pick from. Around 66 million Americans believe that aliens landed at Roswell, New Mexico; around 22 million people believe that the government faked the moon landing; and around 160 million believe that there is a conspiracy surrounding the assassination of former US president John F Kennedy.
While aliens and fake moon landings probably trigger eyerolls in many of us, defining what constitutes a conspiracy theory is difficult, Brotherton says. The government, for example, does sometimes conspire to do the unspeakable, such as the infamous 1930s Tuskegee study, initiated by the US government to examine untreated syphilis in African-American men. Researchers blocked research participants from receiving penicillin or exiting the experiment to get treatment. The study continued until a media report made it public. In this case, believing that the government was conspiring to keep people sick would have been completely accurate.
There are characteristics that help differentiate a conspiracy theory from prudent paranoia, Brotherton says. Conspiracy theories tend to depend on conspirators who are unduly evil, he explains, with genocide or world domination as a motive. Conspiracy theories also tend to assign an usually high level of competency to the conspirators, Brotherton adds, pointing out that when the government really does “shady stuff” it often isn’t able to keep it secret.
Chances are, we all know someone who believes some version of a conspiracy theory, which is why psychologists have been trying to understand what makes someone jump from logically questioning the world to looking for signs of lizard teeth in public figures. Research has shown that feelings of powerlessness and uncertainty are associated with a tendency to believe in conspiracies, says Karen Douglas, professor of social psychology at the University of Kent in the UK. Or as Joseph E Uscinski, associate professor of political science at the University of Miami and author of American Conspiracy Theories, puts it, “conspiracies are for losers”.
Claims that the Moon landing was faked or that lizard people are taking over the world might seem harmless and even humorous, but philosopher Patrick Stokes argues that every conspiracy theory comes with a moral cost.
Earlier this year, the world marked the 30th anniversary of the Challenger space shuttle disaster and the loss of all seven crew. With the public captivated by the story of Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher in space, some 17 per cent of the entire American population watched in horror as Challenger exploded live on television.
Except it didn’t really happen. The tragedy was faked. At least six of the astronauts are alive and well and hiding in plain sight. Why, they’re even still using their real names, or variations thereof. Sharon Christa McAuliffe is now Sharon A. McAuliffe, an adjunct professor of law at Syracuse University. The public has been duped by a massive conspiracy for three decades, one finally exposed thanks to intrepid amateur sleuths scouring the internet for clues.
These claims are, needless to say, utter hogwash; the evidence offered is not merely flimsy, but laughable. (At least two of the people alleged to be Challenger survivors are actually siblings of Challenger crewmembers). And what sort of conspirators would fake their own deaths in front of millions of viewers but then keep their real names?
Even so, it’s yet another illustration of the pervasiveness of conspiracy theory as a social practice—and the widespread desire to believe in them. If you think this all sounds like some fringe belief that nobody could buy into, consider this: for this theory to hold, NASA would have had to somehow keep a conspiracy involving thousands of people secret for three decades. Yet upwards of 6 per cent of Americans believe that NASA pulled off the far greater feat of faking the moon landings.
A Professor of psychology from Victoria University sheds some light on the conspiracy theories surrounding illuminati.
By matt stewart via Stuff.co.nz
You don’t have to be mad to create conspiracy theories, but it certainly helps, new research suggests.
Just believing in them indicates you are more likely to be paranoid or mentally ill, a Victoria University study shows.
Widely held conspiracy theories range from harmless ones, such as the belief that the Moon landings were faked, to more dangerous delusions such as the one in Nigeria that polio vaccines were a Western plot to sterilise people. That led to vaccination crews being murdered and thousands dying from disease.
Clinical psychologist Darshani Kumareswaran is delving in to the psychology of conspiracy belief, and has found some believers are likely to endorse far-fetched plots in an effort to make sense of chaotic situations beyond their control.
Kumareswaran, who graduated from Victoria with a PhD in psychology this week, wanted to find out what made people more likely to believe in, or come up with, conspiracy theories – and whether the process was linked to mental illness.
Avid conspiracy theorists can put themselves under intense psychological strain with their tendency towards paranoid thinking and delusional beliefs, causing mental strain even when a conspiracy theory turns out to be a verified plot.
She also looked behind the common public image of the conspiracy theorist as a crackpot.
Despite evidence of verified conspiracies, such as the Watergate scandal, the public viewed conspiracy theorists in as negative a light as they did convicted criminals, she said.
“For the label to be so negatively rated by the public is quite a powerful finding.”
Study participants were asked to recall a situation in which they had no control, describe it in detail, and write it down. They were then put in a “psychological space” in which they felt powerlessness and were given 24 pictures that looked like snowy television screens.
Half featured obscured objects such as a chair or tent, the other half nothing.
Those who scored highly on a form of psychopathology known as schizotypy were more likely to see an object in the images where there was none, indicating they were more likely to make connections between unrelated things.
“I also found that someone who creates conspiracy theories is more likely to have some form of psychopathology, or mental illness such as . . .
By Ali Gray via yahoo
Stanley Kubrick was one of the greatest and most fastidious directors to ever live – but because he died in 1999, he wasn’t around to debunk the ridiculous conspiracy theories that his finest works would end up attracting. Thus, the Kubrick canon is a breeding ground for insane alternative viewpoints, including but not limited to alien sex cults to fake Moon landings. Now, as ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ enjoys a re-release, we present the strangest Stanley Kubrick theories out there – and they certainly are out there…
‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ proves the existence of aliens
This one requires you to make the small suspension of disbelief that Stanley Kubrick faked the Moon landings for the US government – no biggie. The reason he’d agree to such a thing, however, was because apparently, aliens beat us to it: there really was a Moon landing, but the version the public saw was shot by Kubrick to cover up the fact that the Apollo 11 mission was to cover up to the retrieval of alien technology. Gnostic scholar Jay Weidner suggests that ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ – released one year before the Moon landing – was actually a “research and development project” that gave Kubrick the tools he needed to create the fake Apollo footage. And… exhale.
‘Dr Strangelove’ was a warning about flouride
If you’ve seen Kubrick’s cold war comedy – which actually started life as a deadly serious drama, before the actual Cold War ended up being stranger than fiction – you’ll be familiar with insane American general Jack D. Ripper (played by Sterling Hayden, above), who waxes lyrical on the Russians being behind fluoridisation: “the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face”. Some viewers think this is as straightforward as Kubrick warning about the dangers of fluoride (in high concentration it can be poisonous) but other theorists go even deeper down the rabbit hole, suggesting that the director intentionally made the character of Ripper insane to discredit those who believed fluoride was a serious threat. We’re not sure why he’d bother with all that, but there you go.