Why Do People Believe In Conspiracies?

One of the reasons some believe in these theories is the desire to feel different.


There is a large number of people (although statistically it is a minority), who have conspiratorial beliefs. These people interpret different events in a different way than the majority, not accepting the official version and looking for an alternative vision that may be more or less viable.

Some of these theories are viable, while others are bizarre and implausible. Why people believe in conspiracies has been investigated numerous times, finding some factors that can have an effect on the probability of believing in them. In this article we make a brief reference to some of them.

What are conspiracy theories?

To understand why conspiracy theories are believed, we must first be clear about what a conspiracy theory is. It is defined as such all that theory or elaborated belief that deals with the association of different people and / or organisms whose link tries to achieve the manipulation of events to achieve their objectives, with their backs to the majority opinion and often being said objective or the media to achieve or hide something that negatively affects the rest of the population, a part of it or even a specific individual.

Generally, these theories are based on the elaboration of a concrete interpretation of some phenomenon, going beyond the facts and data verified and verified empirically. The event in question on which they are based may have occurred already, may occur in the future, or is considered to be occurring now.

It must be borne in mind that these theories do not appear out of nowhere: they start from some kind of real event that is interpreted in an alternative way. In some cases they resemble the delusions typical of different mental disorders, their content being not supported by empirical evidence (although some elements are considered as proof of the theory), they are not shared by the majority and are usually fixed and impervious to changes. often considering that whoever denies them may become part of the conspiracy.

Often, the maintenance and belief in these theories can generate alterations and repercussions in the life of the subject and even in that of other people, such as avoiding exposure to certain stimuli although they may be beneficial (for example, vaccines), being object of ridicule and criticism, making social interaction difficult or even causing complete isolation of the person (either because the same person isolates himself or herself or because of social rejection). It can also hinder academic or work performance, depending on the case.

Not all conspiracy theories are the same. Some of these theories include fantasy or science fiction elements, while others are relatively plausible and may arise from the interpretation of real events. In fact, although the vast majority are usually false or a misrepresentation of real facts, some theories initially considered conspiracy or the product of delusions have proven to be real, as happened with Martha Mischel with the Watergate case and corruption in Nixon times, the existence of the Jewish Holocaust or the MK Ultra project.

Factors linked to belief in conspiracy theories

Although many of these theories are very interesting, as a general rule they are not believed by the majority of the population. Although some are defended by more or less groups and individuals, statistically speaking there are few who consider them to be true, support and defend them.

One wonders what makes these people believe in one or more conspiracy theories, if there are common aspects that make it easier to believe in theories that are not widely shared and for which there is often no palpable and irrefutable evidence (which in turn time in many of these theories it is considered a proof of its concealment). In this sense, different investigations have been carried out in this regard. Some of the factors that have been found linked to this type of conspiracy belief are the following.

1. Differences at the perceptual level

Some studies show that people who believe in supernatural phenomena and conspiracy theories considered irrational (although we are talking about a non-clinical population, without psychopathology) tend to have certain differences with respect to those who do not in regard to the perception of patterns . This perception is what makes us identify events and stimuli based on a previously acquired pattern or stimulus, making associations between both.

In the case of those who create conspiracy theories, they would tend more easily than the rest of the population to identify illusory patterns, linking elements that are not necessarily linked and considering that they have cause-effect relationships between them. In other words, they have a greater tendency to connect stimuli and elements that are considered as associated even when their appearance is random. This has been observed in investigations in which the perception of patterns has been worked on when presenting visual stimuli, tending to make more recognition of supposed patterns.

2. Need for control / Intolerance to uncertainty

Some of the people who decide to believe in these types of theories reflect a strong need for control or to manage uncertainty in the face of events for which they cannot find an explanation or the existing explanation does not convince them. The human being tends to seek to provide a structure to the world and the events that occur in it, and conspiracy theories could supply this need in the absence of an explanation that agrees more with their own schemes.

Likewise, people who have little sense of control over what they live are often more likely to believe that someone else is directing situations.

3. Life events and learnings

Another factor to take into account is the existence of high levels of stress, the specific events that we have experienced in our personal history and the learning that we have made throughout life. For example, it is easier to believe in a conspiracy on the part of the government if we consider that it has defrauded, deceived or used us on some occasion. It has been observed that situations of intense and continuous stress also facilitate the belief in conspiracy theories.

Also education and the type of beliefs to which we have been exposed in childhood. For example, if we do not believe in aliens it will be difficult to believe that a species from outer space is invading us, or if someone has been raised with people who defended a certain theory it will be easier (although it is not decisive) for that belief to be considered true.

4. Need for distinction

Another element that can motivate the belief in this type of theories is, as reflected by different studies and research carried out by the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, the need for distinction or to feel unique. It is important to note that this need does not have to be conscious.

The investigations in this regard were carried out through the realization of several scales that measured the importance of being unique and different and the belief in conspiracies and the control of others over the behavior and events that we live. The subjects were then exposed to a list of different conspiracy theories to indicate whether they believed any of them to be true. In another experiment, a theory of this type was even created to see if it was believed or not and if it was linked to the need for differentiation or not. Even after stating this fact.

The results reflected indicated that in a large percentage of cases, people who believed in conspiracies or had a mentality that facilitated their belief had a higher level of need for distinctiveness and uniqueness. The data obtained from these studies indicate that the need to feel different and unique has an existing effect and considered significant in the belief in conspiracy theories, although it is an effect that occurs at a modest level that does not govern or determine the belief per se.

Likewise, it was observed that the popularity of the theory itself did not affect the majority of the participants with the exception of those who subscribed to a large number of them (reducing their level of belief the more popular it was). In the latter cases, there would be a greater need for attention and to feel different.

Bibliographic references

  • Imhoff, R. & Lamberty, K. (2017). Too special to be duped: Need for uniqueness motivates conspiracy beliefs. European Journal of Social Psychology.
  • Swami, V .; Chamorro-Premuzic, T. & Furnham, A. (2009). Unanswered questions: A preliminary investigation of personality and individual difference predictors of 9/11 conspiracist beliefs. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24 (6): 749-761.
  • Van Prooijen, JW; Douglas, KM & De Inocencio, C. (2017). Connecting the dots: Illusory pattern perception predicts belief in conspiracies and the supernatural. European Journal of Social Psychology.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *