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Why People Believe In Conspiracy Theories


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#1    olympic1

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Posted 08 May 2010 - 08:52 AM

Did NASA really land on the moon?

Did the government cover-up involvement in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks?

Is Elvis still alive and kicking? What about Michael Jackson?

Was John F. Kennedy assassinated at the hands of multiple shooters?

Do the Freemasons control the United States?

A small but fervent group of people believe there is more than was included in historical records about the aforementioned events. Conspiracies, they call them. And every generation has its own.

Some of them turn out to be true, after all: Pearl Harbor was a Japanese conspiracy and Nixon’s Watergate break-in was a coverup.

But with so few that turn out to be true, why do people believe in conspiracies? Here are four reasons:

1. Patternicity, or a tendency to find meaningful patterns in random places;

2. Agenticity, or the bent to believe the world is controlled by secret unknown agents with intentions;

3. Confirmation bias, or the seeking and finding of confirmatory evidence for what we already believe;

4. Hindsight bias, or tailoring after-the-fact explanations to what we already know happened.

A conspiracy theory takes flight when all of these are concocted into a heady mix of conviction. It’s called "conspiratorial cognition."

But research has been thin on precisely why some have a conspiratorial dispensation.

Back in 2007, Patrick Leman wrote in New Scientist that belief in conspiracy theories is on the rise thanks to the distribution power of the Internet.

Take the JFK conspiracy, for example: In 1968, two of every 10 Americans believed it to be true. In 1990, nine of 10 Americans believed it to be true.

Leman writes:

"Conspiracy theories can have a valuable role in society. We need people to think 'outside the box', even if there is usually more sense to be found inside the box.

Take the Iran-Contra affair, a massive political scandal of the late 1980s. When claims first surfaced that the US government had sold arms to its enemy Iran to raise funds for pro-American rebel forces in Nicaragua and to help secure the release of US hostages taken by Iran, it certainly sounded like yet another convoluted conspiracy theory. Several question marks remain over the affair, but President Ronald Reagan admitted that his administration had indeed sold arms to Iran."

On the other hand, distrust contributed to an inflation of the East-West fears during the Cold War, as well as continued belief by some that HIV (which causes AIDS) was created in a lab and distributed by the U.S. government to limit the growth of the African-American population.

Some points to ponder:

People who believe in one theory are more likely to believe in others.

There is a strong association between income and belief levels: the better-off are less likely to believe in conspiracy theories. (Perhaps this can be chalked up to education or at least the fact that they don't feel as victimized by society and angry about their situation in life.)

Instability makes most of us uncomfortable; people prefer to imagine living in a predictable, safe world. Some conspiracy theories offer accounts that feel “safe” or “predictable.”

Conspiracy theories often mutate over time in light of new or contradicting evidence.

To the paranoid, it seems everything that doesn't work the way they like it becomes a conspiracy. We must beware of extreme interpretations of events and over-speculation.

Conspiracies usually require a big newsworthy event on which to peg it.

But Michael Shermer drives the point home when he writes:

“The more elaborate a conspiracy theory is, and the more people that would need to be involved, the less likely it is true.




from the web blog mystagogy sorry dont knowe how to do a link

Edited by olympic1, 08 May 2010 - 09:44 AM.


#2    Eurymedon

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Posted 08 May 2010 - 09:08 AM

The short answer is that life and human existence as we know it is a grand illusion that we construct ourselves to make the time between our birth and inevitable demise a bit more exciting. Conspiracy theories suggest that there are people out there who wish to lead even more eventful lives (if only in their minds) by adding to an already tenuous psychological fabrication further trappings of mystique.

Conspiracy theorists are a joy to converse with. I never poke fun because people are entitled to believe what they want to believe. :)


#3    Lilly

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Posted 08 May 2010 - 09:40 AM

To olympic 1, please provide a source link to your quoted material.

UM rules: "2c. Plagiarism and copyright: If you quote text from an external web site then please always provide a source link. Members are asked to copy only as much as is necessary when quoting material from external sources, do not copy and paste entire articles or web pages."


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#4    KennyB

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Posted 09 May 2010 - 12:25 AM

View PostEurymedon, on 08 May 2010 - 09:08 AM, said:

The short answer is that life and human existence as we know it is a grand illusion that we construct ourselves to make the time between our birth and inevitable demise a bit more exciting. Conspiracy theories suggest that there are people out there who wish to lead even more eventful lives (if only in their minds) by adding to an already tenuous psychological fabrication further trappings of mystique.

Conspiracy theorists are a joy to converse with. I never poke fun because people are entitled to believe what they want to believe. :)

What is amazing to me is why more people don't believe in 'conspiracy theories'. You say that like it's something insane or unusual. Actually, it just means an alternate theory. What makes an alternate theory something strange is (usually the govt) uses their vast power over the media and the TV programming to control the people's minds. Your explanation reads like something out of the Propaganda and Cover-up Instruction Manual. KennyB


#5    Torgo

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Posted 12 May 2010 - 05:23 PM

I have been reading an interesting book, called "The Long Descent."  it is about the inevitable end of the industrial age, slowly over the course of the next 300 years or so.  

The first quarter of the book does not deal with this, however.  It deals with peoples' perceptions and the way we put world events into narratives to explain them to ourselves.  There is a brief digression on conspiracy theories, and one point which is made I think deserves a wider hearing.

The idea is that if you think that there is some kind of conspiracy controlling things, it implies that the world does as it is told.  It ceases to be an independent system with complex processes operating at all scales that does not care about individual human will, and becomes an object to be controlled (and at least potentially controlled by you).


#6    KennyB

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Posted 12 May 2010 - 06:35 PM

View PostTorgo, on 12 May 2010 - 05:23 PM, said:

I have been reading an interesting book, called "The Long Descent."  it is about the inevitable end of the industrial age, slowly over the course of the next 300 years or so.  

The first quarter of the book does not deal with this, however.  It deals with peoples' perceptions and the way we put world events into narratives to explain them to ourselves.  There is a brief digression on conspiracy theories, and one point which is made I think deserves a wider hearing.

The idea is that if you think that there is some kind of conspiracy controlling things, it implies that the world does as it is told.  It ceases to be an independent system with complex processes operating at all scales that does not care about individual human will, and becomes an object to be controlled (and at least potentially controlled by you).

Torgo, I have read many of your posts and one thing is very plain to me. Somehow, you always find enough reasons to profess belief in whatever "official" explanation there happens to be for everything that happens. Apparently, you expect people to belive any kind of unreasonable or impossible BS that is currently in vogue. That same thing goes for every elite member of this forum. Since I know that all of you are very well educated, there can only be one reason you choose to do this. IMO, KennyB


#7    Torgo

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Posted 12 May 2010 - 07:11 PM

View PostKennyB, on 12 May 2010 - 06:35 PM, said:

Torgo, I have read many of your posts and one thing is very plain to me. Somehow, you always find enough reasons to profess belief in whatever "official" explanation there happens to be for everything that happens. Apparently, you expect people to belive any kind of unreasonable or impossible BS that is currently in vogue. That same thing goes for every elite member of this forum. Since I know that all of you are very well educated, there can only be one reason you choose to do this. IMO, KennyB

What reason would that be?  Haha, I'm an "elite" member? Nice!  * feels honored *

Oh, "official" reasons for some things happening are quite often BS.  This is most obvious in the area of economics.  Unemployment numbers and CPI are so statistically gamed that they have nothing to do with the real state of the economy anymore, and the recent bizarre crap the federal reserve and the government has been doing is only propping up an inevitable major devaluation of the US dollar within the next few decades and making the inevitable economic corrections worse.  I do not trust the solvency of the US government over a single digit decade timescale, distrust fiat currency and other such IOU assets, and I have 25% of my money in the form of gold and silver.  I use this example because it is the closest idea I hold to certain things often held as 'conspiracy theories'.

But the economic games played by the government are emergent and predictable BS, rather than being the result of some kind of central conspiracy.  It helps keep whoever is currently in power in power and boosts their approval.  Short term costs for long term gains are not politically palatable, so people go for short term gains with long term costs.

Politicians are full of ****, and lie quite a bit.  But they lie for predictable short term short sighted reasons.  People feel that large, significant, far reaching events have to have large, significant, far reaching causes.  This is by far not always true.  The sum total of millions upon millions of people working in their own short term self interest, or one stochastic event that gets amplified through interdependencies, can do all kinds of bizarre things.  Most conspiracy theorists sorely underestimate this fact.

Edited by Torgo, 12 May 2010 - 07:52 PM.


#8    Agent X

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Posted 12 May 2010 - 11:35 PM

Well, one common quirk I've found is that they all seem to have a vast distrust of authority.

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#9    digitalartist

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Posted 13 May 2010 - 04:36 PM

View PostKennyB, on 12 May 2010 - 06:35 PM, said:

Apparently, you expect people to belive any kind of unreasonable or impossible BS that is currently in vogue.

BS Currently in vogue???  Funny, I haven't seen Torgo refer to or utilize anything put out by people like Sitchin even though there are others that have.


#10    PETER GORE SEER

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Posted 30 May 2010 - 06:47 AM

I just love the way conspiracy theories are covered up using nonsense.The goverments must be paying dam good saleres and pensions.I hope all that money spent is worth in the end.


#11    brantcoyle

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Posted 30 May 2010 - 12:33 PM

There is a massive conspiracy and cover-up that no one ever talks about every four years. It's called the presidential election. This is where the competing secret societies and foreign governments anonymously donate massive quantities of money in order to buy the results. If it ever came out who donated what and what they got in return for it the whole system would start to unravel. The idea that a lot of money is coming from the small donaters has been proven false time and time again. It's all coming secretly from these big groups who then feel free to dictate to the elected officials how its going to be. The idea that the individual has representation is a myth.


#12    Rhomphaia

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Posted 30 May 2010 - 10:31 PM

View Postbrantcoyle, on 30 May 2010 - 12:33 PM, said:

There is a massive conspiracy and cover-up that no one ever talks about every four years. It's called the presidential election. This is where the competing secret societies and foreign governments anonymously donate massive quantities of money in order to buy the results. If it ever came out who donated what and what they got in return for it the whole system would start to unravel. The idea that a lot of money is coming from the small donaters has been proven false time and time again. It's all coming secretly from these big groups who then feel free to dictate to the elected officials how its going to be. The idea that the individual has representation is a myth.
First, wrong section.

Second, care to show your source?

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#13    brantcoyle

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Posted 31 May 2010 - 03:28 AM

View PostRhomphaia, on 30 May 2010 - 10:31 PM, said:

First, wrong section.

Second, care to show your source?

Yeah I got a source the blog that I was banned from CBS news from. I am amazed that anybody out there still thinks that the elections are a not a scam. Gah, checked it out and it is gone buried under an avalance of 388 blog responses. Anyways the part about the elections were first of all Republicans claiming that foreigners were behind most of the small donations that Obama was recieving. Did some checking on that and found out that the Dem response was that most of the donations they recieved were large donations. Excuse me but wasn't Obama given a mandate to lead because of all these small donations. Then I went to the large donor list which at the time could be found on the web. It was the usual law firms, defense firms, educational institutions, credit card companies etc. Then I looked at what they either got or tried to get. The large law firm I looked at actually dictated to congress at the time in front of congress either you can do things our way and get the money or not and the opponent will get the money. I think if you look at who donated vs who got paid its pretty easy to spot the scam here. I am sure there are better people than me to enlighten folks about it.

Edited by brantcoyle, 31 May 2010 - 03:47 AM.


#14    Rhomphaia

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Posted 31 May 2010 - 03:39 AM

View Postbrantcoyle, on 31 May 2010 - 03:28 AM, said:

Yeah I got a source the blog that I was banned from CBS news from. I am amazed that anybody out there still thinks that the elections are a not a scam.
*snip*

But seriously, if you want anyone to lend any credibility to you, post some sort of evidence that backs up your claim. They may debunk it or point out how it is flawed, but they will at least play at being civil and taking you seriously.

Edited by Saru, 31 May 2010 - 12:48 PM.
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#15    brantcoyle

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Posted 31 May 2010 - 04:04 AM

View PostRhomphaia, on 31 May 2010 - 03:39 AM, said:

But seriously, if you want anyone to lend any credibility to you, post some sort of evidence that backs up your claim. They may debunk it or point out how it is flawed, but they will at least play at being civil and taking you seriously.

I do care. I have done the research but am too lazy to do it again for you as it looks like my blog responses are gone. Vote all you want to but for me other than the local elections I don't really care anymore.





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