10 Reasons Why People Believe Conspiracy Theories

Some popular conspiracy theories, featuring an anti-masonic poster, the moon landings, and the September 11th attacks. Public domain, except:
Some popular conspiracy theories, featuring an anti-masonic poster, the moon landings, and the September 11th attacks. Public domain, except: | Source

The Psychology of Conspiracy Theorists

A conspiracy theory is loosely defined as a belief that two or more people are covering up information that is in the public's interest to know.

Conspiracy theories often focus on major events like the JFK assassination, September 11th attacks, or the moon landings. Some theories describe a more protracted effect, such as the idea that the Illuminati, Freemasons, Zionists, or some other political entity is acquiring power by misleading the masses about sequences of events.

A common trait among conspiracy theorists is the need to believe a conspiracy more than they're willing to evaluate if it's true. For psychologists, this bias or `motivated reasoning' can be explained in various ways. The following article presents 10 personality traits that help to explain why people believe in conspiracies.

Though conspiracy theorists often display the following traits, it would be wrong to say that every theorist displays every trait to its maximum extent. Generally, the extent to which someone fails to consider evidence against their theory correlates with how much their personality is punctuated by these traits. Those at the extreme end of the spectrum might best be described as conspiracy nuts. Those more in touch with reality will be more inclined to consider conflicting evidence.

Video: Some Popular Conspiracies

1. We Evolved to be Suspicious

The evolution of language enhanced our ability to communicate, seek advice, deceive others, and police cheaters; all of which made survival a more complicated endeavor. Research suggests that human brain size drastically increased to accommodate new cognitive mechanisms that could deal with verbally-encoded information.

The purpose of many of these mechanisms is to detect when someone is intentionally or accidentally deceiving us. For example, we might evaluate a speaker's voice pitch, accent, word choice, grammatical errors, and speed of delivery to determine if they're trustworthy. We'll also examine facial features, physical behavior, and assess the social status, authority, and prestige of the speaker. These judgements are based on past experiences, the testimony of others, cultural norms, and genetic biases, such as the tendency to trust people who look and sound similar to ourselves or family.

Unlike other mammals, we have an episodic memory which is used to establish someone's past record for honesty. We also have a `coherence checker' to assess how new information is compatible with existing beliefs. Finally, humans have what is called a `theory of mind' (ToM), which is used to evaluate someone's desires and intentions, and how this influences their beliefs, the veracity of those beliefs, and their willingness to deceive. Together, these mechanisms help us to employ what cognitive psychologists call epistemic vigilance. This is an assessment of the relevance and believability of information, as well as the competence and benevolence of the source.

Suspicion (or vigilance) exists because it is advantageous and adaptive, but too much suspicion can be detrimental to one's reputation, confidence, and breadth of knowledge. However, as environments change, different levels of traits become adaptive. If the world became a threatening place, highly suspicious individuals might receive an advantage. Evolution has ensured that the human population is prepared for such eventualities by producing diversity. Thus, some people believe in wacky conspiracy theories because their elevated suspicion is a natural and necessary extreme of the human condition.

Most major events come with a conspiracy theory.
Most major events come with a conspiracy theory. | Source

2. Special Knowledge Makes Special People

Nearly every major event has a conspiracy theory attached to it. Recently, I spoke with someone who thought the Titanic sank in a different way to accepted theories. They claimed a big cover-up was in effect. While there's always a possibility that current theories are wrong, why would the Titanic be the focus of a cover up?

Big events attract conspiracies because the knowledge the theorist possesses wouldn't be special otherwise. If the knowledge isn't special, then they aren't special for possessing it. The suggestion is therefore that a conspiracy theorist wants to feel special, and this desire emerges from self-worth based insecurities.

The often unusual result is that communicating `the truth' becomes less important than communicating that one knows the truth, or that the truth is special beyond all measure.

3. Anxiety and the Need For Order

There is a direct link between anxiety and conspiratorial thinking. A psychology study found that anxious people were more likely to believe conspiracy theories about ethnic minorities such as Arabs and Jews. Conspiracy theories often contain information about threats. As anxiety causes people to be more attentive to threats, this may explain the connection.

Anxiety is typically prevalent in situations of uncertainty or doubt. A separate study found that when people who disliked oil companies were made to feel uncertain, they became more likely to generate conspiracies about the actions of those companies in Iraq.

Generally, uncertainty and anxiety describe a more fundamental feeling of lacking control. To demonstrate this, an experiment showed that people lacking control were more likely to see illusory pattens in sequences of dots or stock market figures. This also included an illusory perception of conspiracies and superstitions. In other words, lacking control prompts a need to restore order. To do this, people invent hidden patterns, puppet masters, or other presumptuous explanations for why bad things happen.

The experimenters also found that conspiratorial thinking reduced when people were allowed to engage in self-affirmation. This supports the earlier suggestion that conspiracy theorists often have self-worth based insecurities.

Most conspiracies tap into our fears or anxieties about a lack of control.
Most conspiracies tap into our fears or anxieties about a lack of control. | Source

4. Most Conspiracies are Fear-Worthy

The earlier video showed how most conspiracies are associated with deaths, assassinations, threats to public health, global warming, alien invasions, major disasters, wars, or quests for control by evil organizations. The pattern of threat-based conspiracies ties in well with the evidence that elevated anxiety is a precursor to conspiratorial thinking. In other words, people who believe in conspiracy theories are very sensitive and attentive to fear-provoking events.

5. Disillusionment and Distrust of Authority

Nearly all conspiracy theorists demonstrate hostility to authority figures, presumably because these figures have the power to exert control over them. As lacking control feels unpleasant, authority figures are indirectly blamed for causing that discomfort.

Given that we're biologically disposed to trust authority, having the opposite trait is unusual. It's likely that many conspiracy theorists have suffered at the hands of an authority figure in the past, such as a parent, teacher, or employer. For some, this suffering may have less to do with power being wielded, and more to do with kindness being withheld. A lack of love or intimacy from parents could be a key precursor to disliking authority figures, and it has already been linked with anxiety, mistrust, and independence.

The September 11th attacks led to conspiracy theories about the culpability of government authorities.
The September 11th attacks led to conspiracy theories about the culpability of government authorities. | Source

6. Paranoia, Persecution, and Jealousy

A key trait among conspiracy theorists is paranoia. They believe the threats they face are more elaborate and personally invasive than is reasonable. Whether the government has a special desire to probe their thoughts, or an alien has a special desire to probe their cavities, the paranoia serves to make the theorist feel special and important. It also contributes to the depth and believability of the theory.

Often conspiracy theorists believe they are the biggest victim of the conspiracy, and that they are being physically or mentally persecuted. They believe that when good things happen to other people, it's because those people are immorally benefiting from the conspiracy. This may be a way to legitimize jealousy. For example, a male conspiracy theorist recently told me that Russell Brand only got to marry Katy Perry because they're both in the Illuminati (apparently).

7. Blame Everything Apart From Oneself

By accepting the role of victim, engaging in paranoid elaborations of threats, and believing other people's success is undeserved, the conspiracy theorist is effectively blaming the world for causing his or her own failures. They are inflating the cost of the conspiracy because the cost of personal responsibility it too unpleasant.

When their failures are brought to their attention, the conspiracy theorist becomes more paranoid. This is because paranoia is a way to highlight or elaborate on the liability of their chosen target for blame. It is a defense mechanism that prevents them from overcoming their failures because the root cause (themselves) is not addressed.

Sometimes we need a scapegoat to blame our failures on.
Sometimes we need a scapegoat to blame our failures on. | Source

8. Groups and Gossip

Conspiracy theorists often band together into communities of like-minded individuals. This is because they seek validation for their views rather than criticism (confirmation bias). It requires that their views be comforting in some way, otherwise they'd be more inclined to find evidence against them. As we have seen, conspiracies are comforting because they provide a sense of order, a way to blame failure on others, and a feeling that one is special. Indeed, another reason for forming a group is the need to establish an identity that is separate and superior to the masses who ignore or reject them.

Much like other traits related to mistrust, conspiracy theorists will be disposed to gossiping. Here, gossip is defined as a way to police free-riders, cheaters, or deceivers by spreading incriminating information about them. Gossip is important for a functional society because it helps to deter and punish cheaters.

9. A Hero With Little Empathy

Whether to gossip, have their views confirmed, or cement their distinctiveness from society, the motivation to become part of a group is usually a selfish one. Their desire to free the world from slavery or invasion should not be confused with empathy. Ultimately, they see themselves as the victim. Other victims are little more than evidence to support a theory that brings the theorist order, superiority, and comfort.

Often the theorist believes the rest of the world is too dumb or apathetic to understand the conspiracy. Either that, or they're actively helping the conspirators. Thus, the theorist seeks to make other people inferior or worthy of hatred.

Despite joining small groups of like-minded individuals, conspiracy theorists prefer to interact from a distance via internet message boards or radio shows. They typically retreat into an independent, survivalist, frame of mind with limited social contact. They will also turn on members of the group who achieve a degree of notoriety. As a result, prestigious theorists with popular radio shows or Youtube channels will often get branded as `fakes' in collusion with the conspirators.

The increasingly popular conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones (center), is increasingly being branded a fake or `double agent'.
The increasingly popular conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones (center), is increasingly being branded a fake or `double agent'. | Source

10. Critics Are Part of the Conspiracy

A common trait among conspiracy theorists is their need to derogate critics. Criticism must be devalued because it threatens the comfort provided by the conspiracy. This is done in one of two ways. Either the critic is too dumb to see the intricacies of the conspiracy, and is thus contributing to it by ignoring it; or they're actively helping the conspirators to cover up the truth. The unconsidered third option: that the critic is just not convinced by the evidence, is undesirable because it would create a reason to doubt the comforting belief.

The two ways of derogating critics have distinct, self-serving functions. In believing that some critics are too dumb to see their special knowledge, theorists establish their superiority. In believing that other critics are part of the conspiracy, theorists are manufacturing evidence to support their special knowledge.


A number of studies and analyses have revealed that a selection of psychological traits are responsible for explaining why people believe conspiracy theories. These traits include dispositions for suspicion, anxiety, feeling out of control, paranoia, self-worth based insecurities, self-aggrandizement, jealousy, self-victimization, sensitivity to fearful events, disillusionment with authority or care-givers, living a relatively independent lifestyle, gossiping, derogating critics, forming highly agreeable groups, not accepting blame, and not feeling genuine empathy towards other victims.

Though conspiracies are threatening in their own way, they allow the theorist to establish order, self-worth, superiority, and a way to blame personal failure on others. Many of the causes and effects of conspiratorial thinking are related to narcissism. Though this comparison is murky and speculative, it is one that should be explored in more detail.

© 2014 Thomas Swan

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Comments 53 comments

Brie Hoffman profile image

Brie Hoffman 2 years ago from Manhattan

How about..they are true? I mean..take 9/ many buildings fell in NY on that day? 3

Building 7 fell in 9 seconds and wasn't even hit by a plane..think about that for a moment. That building had to be to bottom BEFORE 9/11 for that to happen and yet everyone ignores this. Even the committee to look into 9/11 ignored building 7. There is no way a 40 story, steel building can dissolve within it's own footprint in 9 seconds without explosives.

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 2 years ago from New Zealand Author

I agree that the 9/11 attacks have yielded some confusing data. Perhaps the buildings contained explosives? Nevertheless, conspiracy theorists are quick to assume that the US government, Illuminati, or the Zionists planted those explosives. Al-Qaeda could have planted them to make sure the job was finished properly. We may never know. I do know that some people are quicker to blame authority figures/institutions than others.

Perhaps the investigators are part of a conspiracy too, or perhaps they and their supervisors were incompetent. Maybe the investigation was sound, but some people didn't understand or read part of it. I certainly haven't read all the reports.

Some of the conspiracies may be true, but that's not really the point of this article. The point is to understand why people jump to conclusions about the truthfulness of conspiracies, and why they interpret `evidence' without considering alternate explanations. I watched a video about 9/11 recently that talked about explosions in the towers occurring ahead of the collapse. However, my first thought was that those were windows being blown out due to a compression of air from the floors coming down above. I wondered why their first thought was different.

Brie Hoffman profile image

Brie Hoffman 2 years ago from Manhattan

Building 7 housed CIA data, NSA data and a bunch of other way that Al-Qaeda could have gotten in there to wire that building. Have you ever been to one of these kinds of buildings in New York? Someone off the street can't just walk in the building.

There are many reasons why people think that there had to be explosives and thermate and/or nuclear explosives..for one is all the burned out vehicles surrounding the do you account for that? It is my experience that so called "conspiracy theorists" have looked into the evidence much more thoroughly than most people in the general public.

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 2 years ago from New Zealand Author

I don't know why there might have been burnt out cars. Did flaming debris fall on them? I haven't seen all of the scientific data relating to 9/11 so I'm not qualified to comment on the truthfulness of the theory.

I agree that conspiracy theorists have looked at more evidence than the general public. The selection of evidence they've looked at, and how they've assessed that evidence is another matter, and one which this article attempts to deal with.

Brie Hoffman profile image

Brie Hoffman 2 years ago from Manhattan

There were 1400 burned out cars over a mile away from ground zero.

That didn't happen from fire..but it could have happened from a nuke. The metal burned but the plastic didn't..just like in a microwave. It could also explain why everyone who worked on the pile got sick and many died an early death.

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 2 years ago from New Zealand Author

I would have to look into it. I would expect the cars to be covered in dust, but as for being burnt out, I don't know.

The nuke option seems a bit strange to me. Wouldn't there be a problem with radiation? You could go there tomorrow with a Geiger counter and prove the theory. Radioactive isotopes last for years (think Chernobyl and other radioactive waste). Hasn't someone tried this?

Also demolition teams use highly targeted small explosives, placed on support struts, to take buildings down vertically. A nuke would seem to be the complete opposite: a single blast that would blow the whole thing to kingdom come. In fact, many of the conspiracy theorists I've talked to have mentioned how the towers fell vertically. They suggest this is because thee towers were demolished by small explosives in the typical way.

Brie Hoffman profile image

Brie Hoffman 2 years ago from Manhattan

Here is an article I wrote, the video showing the cars is the first one that comes up with the title Nuclear? on it.

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 2 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thanks Brie, that was an interesting article for sure.

Brie Hoffman profile image

Brie Hoffman 2 years ago from Manhattan

Thanks, I'm glad you liked it..see there are "Conspiracy Theorists" who think!

Hezekiah profile image

Hezekiah 2 years ago from Japan

Many people who come up with these conspiracy theories really do sit down and plan a good convincing story covering all facts and basis that's why.

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 2 years ago from New Zealand Author

Hezekiah, thanks for commenting. Yes, people don't just believe anything for the hell of it. They need to convince themselves before they can convince others. I'm interested in how people's psychological make-up biases what they choose to find evidence for, and what they choose to ignore.

Colleen Swan profile image

Colleen Swan 2 years ago from County Durham

I had to smile when I read this. An enjoyable read, believe what we may. I will have my morning cup of coffee, and pop out to the garden and make sure all the garden gnomes have come home this morning.

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 2 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thanks Colleen. When I was at university, a friend and I devised something called "gnomic theory" which is the idea that we'll keep discovering smaller and smaller particles until we get down to the level of gnomes. These tiny yoctoscopic creatures make up the fabric of the universe, farting out gravitational waves, and secreting the glue that holds atomic nuclei together. Alas, your gnomes are probably of a larger kind!

Jennifer Bart profile image

Jennifer Bart 2 years ago from Texas

This is a very interesting read for me being as I like to read all about conspiracy theories. I don't believe everything I read but I do see shocking facts that could be true simply because they make more since than the story the media puts out. Anyway I like the way wrote on a psychological standpoint you are not saying they are not true rather than putting it out there the reasons behind our fascination with conspiracy theories. Very interesting!

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 2 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thanks Jennifer, I'm glad you understood what I was going for. Regarding your comments, I should say that it's quite difficult to tell when suspicion becomes conspiratorial thinking. I have long thought that the British and American media are biased towards the interests of those countries, especially when it comes to international issues. Recently, the bias has been especially evident in their coverage of the MH17 disaster. The separatists and Russia have been dragged through the dirt when there is very little if any verifiable evidence for their guilt. I believe this blanket condemnation and uniform reporting of the issue across the media is evidence for pro-government bias (because our governments hate Russia). So are you or I conspiracy theorists too? It's difficult to know.

Jennifer Bart profile image

Jennifer Bart 2 years ago from Texas

I agree I think conspiracy theorist is a label used to create division and discrimination among the people just as race, religion, culture and political parties.

JYOTI KOTHARI profile image

JYOTI KOTHARI 2 years ago from Jaipur

Hi Thomas,

Its funny and interesting. People are crazy about conspiracy theories that supply material for gossip. Sometimes these are useful and make us aware. Nicely written article, Rated up and funny.

vandynegl profile image

vandynegl 2 years ago from Ohio Valley

Very interesting read for sure! I have an open mind and enjoy learning all of the evidence and facts as well as theories too. Great video as well!

TommyD6of11 2 years ago

This was mostly a descent article. It's shortcoming is it's failure to acknowledge that some conspiracies are indeed true. Iran Contra is just one recent bizarre but true conspiracies. Still, most are pure fantasy believed by many for all the reasons cited above. The challenge is know the difference. Best to assume their false till proven.

Sanxuary 2 years ago

I was born naïve and over time learned that you should distrust everything you our told. If I presented the history of all the lies told since World War II, the only truth is that most everything we were told began as a lie. A lie is not always a conspiracy its simply a lie. My reason to see a conspiracy is dictated by the inability to answer a question. A answer with out facts, evidence or proof when such things are available is no answer at all. We call some things conspiracy's but in reality they are only lies and we want the true answer. When evidence vanishes you know the lie is pretty big. Most things we call conspiracy's are the things we lack any evidence to present a case. I am still looking for the first dead Sasquatch who seems to live all over the country but somehow never dies and leaves a body. Where are the whistle blowers hiding all the aliens? Not one of them has snuck out with any real proof. Oddly it doesn't take much of a conspiracy to pull off the greatest crimes of all time. They tend to happen right in front of our face. We cry a little, get poorer and keep on being lied to and we do nothing.

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 2 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thank you JYOTI. Yes, some people need to gossip, and gossip is actually quite useful for a working society, though the motivations that cause people to gossip aren't so healthy!

Thanks vandynegl, I agree it was a great video. Yea, there are sometimes some useful facts embedded in all the craziness of the theories. Some of the theories may even prove to be true.

Thanks for stopping by Tommy. It wasn't really about whether the conspiracies are true. Some may be true. It was more about why some people believe conspiracies that are a bit insane! - i.e. not sufficient evidence. The Iran-Contra scandal was surprising in terms of who they were supplying, but I doubt those clued up on CIA activities since WW2 were that shocked by it.

Thanks for commenting Sanxuary. Yup, there have been many lies told since WW2. I wrote a hub called "Top 25 Crimes of the CIA" that probably covers 1% of all of them! I think proving something is a lie would typically prove one of several conspiracy theories to be true. I would say that an important, unexplained, un-investigated event certainly warrants theories, but not belief in those theories... not until the lie is proven.

Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

Interesting hub Thomas. Good work and research.

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 2 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thanks Jodah!

Nadine May profile image

Nadine May 2 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

I loved your article and it gave me plenty food for thought. The way wrote about the conspiracy theory followers on a psychological stand point created a shift in my perception about some public speakers. More on "why" some video clips or news items were created maybe? If you ever have the time to visit my page, you will find several articles that might fall under the conspiracy theory label, but all in all I do intuitively feel that a lot has been hidden from the global population about many things. Mostly ( I feel) to do with the greed for profit. I'm bookmarking you article, so I can link it into some of my posts.Voted Up and shared it.

bethperry profile image

bethperry 2 years ago from Tennesee

Interesting Hub. I think there is some validity presented here about individuals that are completely obsessed with such things. I don't care to be around folks that talk conspiracy theories non-stop; they bore me to tears. But I feel some of the conclusions here are far too sweeping. When people are told they must be narcissicists, gossips, paranoid, jealous or otherwise emotionally unbalanced because they question the popular view, some are going to feel guilted into conformity. And guilting people into accepting any belief is detrimental to all of us.

jellygator profile image

jellygator 2 years ago from USA

Interesting, well-written hub that certainly deserves HotD!

This is an interesting topic. I like the way you pointed out that for some people, the conspiracy itself is more important than finding out the truth.

I believe that conspiracies are possible. (Watergate would never have come to light if people were automatically scorned for believing it possible!) Nonetheless, there are some people who get absurd with this stuff, and then you have the opposite types who refuse to entertain such possibilities altogether. I hope you'll write a "10 Reasons People Deny Conspiracies" hub, too.

Barbara Kay profile image

Barbara Kay 2 years ago from USA

This is interesting because I know a couple of people that believe every new theory they hear. I've noticed a few of these traits about them. I do think though that we all need to question things, but not believe the absurd like these people do.

conradofontanilla 2 years ago

A generalization about conspiracy is full of definitions of the deductive kind. A lot of errors can be committed with deductive definitions. One can be created or stated without verifying its truth.

Here is a sample of conspiracy theory. JFK was killed because he wanted to control the minting of dollars against the wishes of the incorporators of Federal Reserve Bank. This is a private bank that controls the economy of the United States. Lyndon Johnson when he became president reversed the executive order of JFK for the Treasury to mint dollar coins. After sometime, all the dollar coins so minted were dissolved. Here only the cause-effect relationship is speculative. All other sentences are true.

Here is a grand conspiracy theory. Internationalist business financed Hitler to make war and weaken Europe, particularly the pound. Then replace the pound with the dollar. WWII was not yet over, in 1944, Bretton Woods conference was held that made the US dollar the world currency. The economies of Europe were reshaped by the Marshall plans I and II. The US was the only source of credit after WWII. Here, "weaken" is speculative but supported by the other sentences. A conspiracy theory can be true or false. It is not false because it is a conspiracy theory. (Some refinements about the term "theory" is called for but that is not tackled now.)

DealForALiving profile image

DealForALiving 2 years ago from Earth

Bravo on the article. I especially like the point of looking outside ourselves for someone or something to blame. I suppose it's natural to do, and people like to victimize themselves once in a while, but you're really not creating any value in the process.

Kim Dessaix profile image

Kim Dessaix 2 years ago from Brisbane, Australia

There are Conspiracy Theorists and then there are people who show healthy skepticism and an unwillingness to believe what the media and the politicians feed them. Evolving to be suspicious is a necessary trait of survival, just as asking pertinent questions is a necessary trait of maturity, responsibility and self-governance.

LeslieAdrienne profile image

LeslieAdrienne 2 years ago from Georgia

Conspiracies have been around from the beginning of time, why shouldn't we believe they are still being carried out. Everything is not a conspiracy, but neither is everything as it is portrayed to be.....

SusanDeppner profile image

SusanDeppner 2 years ago from Arkansas USA

Very interesting read. The truth will set us free, but sometimes it's pretty hard to know what really is truth. Congrats on your HOTD!

junecampbell profile image

junecampbell 2 years ago from North Vancouver, BC, Canada

Your excellent article made me think of a situation that I encountered some years ago. A certain situation was occurring regarding Internet marketing, and this situation, should it come to pass, had the potential to make online marketing almost impossible. A certain man invited me to join an online group that was dedicated to fighting this upcoming occurrence. Because I believed the cause was valid, (and it was!) I joined the group. Before too many days had passed, this particular man began making conspiracy claims that were wilder and wilder. Many of us tried disagreeing with these wild claims, fearing that we would lose all credibility with the public, and therefore harm our own cause. The more we tried to talk reason, the more incensed this man became. Eventually, some of those who tried to talk reason were barred from the group. I decided I didn't want to risk my reputation by being involved with this man any longer, so I removed myself from the group. I was told by other members that he immediately decided that I left out of fear because "they" had influenced and threatened me. It was an eye opening example of how a conspiracy theorist's mind works -- and it can truly be unsettling to watch it happen.

Baby-Boomer-58 profile image

Baby-Boomer-58 2 years ago

Your line "A common trait among conspiracy theorists is the need to believe a conspiracy more than they're willing to evaluate if it's true" applies just as much to people who have a need to believe a government or authority figure more than they're willing to evaluate if what they're saying is true.

Interesting article, but it strengthens the position of those responsible for conspiracies who dismiss criticism with a blanket 'just another conspiracy theory'. I think that's a shame.

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 2 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thank you all for your kind comments. I’m very happy to have gotten hub of the day!

Nadine, I agree that governments and their media allies may target propaganda in a way that taps into these psychological dispositions. I think these are dispositions that we all have to some extent, though they’d be more pronounced in conspiracy theorists. That would be something for another hub, but it’s certainly an interesting topic. Creating or supporting conspiracy theories isn’t such a bad thing. Like you, I’ve been known to do it at times. When that crosses into hard-belief, paranoid behaviour, and vicious arguments with disbelievers, it gets more problematic. Thanks for sharing.

Bethperry, I agree that I was a little too harsh in my analysis. Conspiracy theorists could also be said to be more inquisitive and perceptive. Gossip isn’t such a bad thing for society in general, though the motivation for it usually isn’t. I didn’t say they must be narcissists; I said there are some similarities, but that it’s very speculative. I won’t deny that I’ve put some of my own speculation into this hub alongside the cited studies.

Jellygator, thank you very much! I think all conspiracies are possible and I certainly don’t want to hinder the search for evidence. As with religion, belief is another matter though. I would be just as critical in a “10 reasons people deny conspiracies” hub! Indeed, I criticise hard-atheists as much as I criticise religionists, so the same would be true here. I think all unsupported beliefs have a fascinating psychological underpinning.

Barbara Kay. Thank you for your comment. Yes I probably should have been a bit less harsh with this. I don’t want to discourage people from questioning things.

Conrad, thank you for your intriguing comment about the differences between conspiracy theories. Both of those examples could be true. Neither is false for being a theory. Perhaps I could have been clearer in the hub, though I chose to focus more on the psychology. It’s not really about whether the conspiracies are true. They might be. I do try to say that reduced levels of the traits will be correlated with more evidence based reasoning, i.e. fewer “grand” conspiracies.

DealForALiving, I’m glad you picked up on that. I felt it was an important point to make. I probably should have looked harder for supporting literature. I would guess that it happens because conspiracy theorists are less likely to analyze themselves. They’re not inward thinkers.

Kim Dessaix, I can definitely agree with that. I approach the news with so much scepticism that some might call me a conspiracy theorist. For me, it’s just based on experience. I’ve seen too many lies and too much bias in the media to take it seriously anymore. It’s not enough to conclude there’s a conspiracy, but it’s enough for that healthy scepticism you mentioned.

LeslieAdrienne, I agree with your last sentence but not your first. I don’t think belief is warranted unless there’s proof. We are better off looking for that proof than assuming we already have it. I wonder if those perpetrating real conspiracies are actually quite grateful when a theorist jumps to a conclusion. Sceptics will fall upon the theorist rather than the guilty party. Just look at how 9/11 truthers are often treated. This very hub is an example of criticising theorists. So I would rather we all looked for proof instead of assuming we have it.

SusanDeppner, thank you very much. Ah yes, the truth will set us free. I think some theorists want freedom too much to wait for all of the truth to arrive!

JuneCampbell, I think that’s a good example of what I said in the reply to Leslie about how some guilty parties may actually be grateful for theorists who jump to conclusions and lose all credibility. Without knowing the details, you were probably right to try to tone him down a bit. I think the reason he became incensed is because the conspiracy comforted him, gave him order, made him feel special, and so on. I wonder if his leadership of the group had anything to do with it amplifying his paranoia. As leader, he becomes more of an active player in the narrative he’s created. How he tried to justify you leaving is also very telling. For him, it couldn’t be because you didn’t support his group anymore, it had to be part of the conspiracy instead.

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 2 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thank you Babyboomer58. I was writing my previous comment when yours arrived! I agree that the sentence can be applied in that way. Some people need their government to be telling the truth. Their sense of order comes from authority. I think the best thing to do is to embrace disorder! That way we can all be skeptics without resigning to an unsupported conclusion. I'm sure we'll get closer to the truth that way.

I hope this doesn't help conspirators to cover up information. Rather, I hope it helps theorists to be more scientific and unassuming in their reasoning.

Brett Winn profile image

Brett Winn 2 years ago from US

Congrats on the Hub of the Day! Playing the devil's advocate, I must suggest that you forgot to mention as one of your reasons the possibility that *some* conspiracies might actually exist! ;)

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 2 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thanks Brett Winn. I agree that some conspiracies might be true. Though believing something without proof is foolish, even if that something turns out to be true. It'd just be luck.

Sorry Duane, I don't allow links to personal blogs in comments. You make a good point though, and I hope I answered it in some of the above comments.

Duane Townsend profile image

Duane Townsend 2 years ago from Detroit

No worries Thomas...completely understood.

Beth Myers 2 years ago

Horrible hub! But then again you got what you wanted, tons of people to read it. So I guess in the end you win!

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Thomas Swan 2 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thanks for commenting Beth Myers. Have a good day.

Susan Hambidge profile image

Susan Hambidge 2 years ago from Hertfordshire, England

Really interesting read. One thing that irks me is the smug conspiracy theorist - believing they have understood things correctly and everyone else is an idiot for believing something else!

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Thomas Swan 2 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thanks Susan. I agree. I think it's an attitude that develops when a theorist is emotionally invested in their belief. Of course, derogating critics is not limited to conspiracy theorists, but I think it always requires that emotional investment.

kelly.truth 2 years ago

I believe in some of these conspiracy theories myself. Cos not long after 911 disaster, Israel flourished. :P

I think partially why people believe in conspiracy theories is that some of them came true!

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Thomas Swan 2 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thanks Kelly. Well, I won't disagree on Israel. They get up to some shady stuff, and America's absolute support of them at the UN can only be guided by something other than a moral standpoint. Israel has broken countless resolutions, and only last week decided to "annex" more land in the West Bank. I haven't seen any connection with 9/11 though. Some conspiracies have come true, which means we should keep investigating them until the evidence is irrefutable.

Buildreps profile image

Buildreps 2 years ago from Europe

As you see I spent an evening reading some of your Hubs, because I still had to catch you up! I never believed in conspiracy theories before. But this changed after looking behind many doors. Unfortunately conspiracies really exist on an unbelievable large scale, which operates according to the universal law of cause and effect - a law that has no preference or judgement.

This law works if you know how to use it in your favour, which is far beyond the average understand of conspiracy. This mechanism is very difficult to unravel - it doesn't hop from event to event - it stands above it.

I will give an example that will probably trigger many here. If you look at the events from WWI to WWII that finally brought the Jews their state Israel, with all the support from the Western countries - this is an intelligent driven mechanism. Not just a chain of coincidental events.

Is starvation necessary because earth too small? No, because our food production system is programmed to waste around 50% of al our food before it reaches the consumer. The perfect soils that are occupied is unusable for other means than producing garbage. Driving people from the countryside to dirty cities, where they're easily to control.

Look how privacy comes under pressure with the excuse to catch terrorists and thieves. How many terrorists and thieves are caught on camera's? I believe the figures touch nearly zero. If I walk from my home to the nearby shopping mall, I'm catched at least 20 times on a camera. Why?

In the future cash money will disappear - the only way to pay anonymous.

If you look at the latest plans of the NSA to install a system to monitor directly online every computer in the world that is logged onto the internet. Why?

The conspiracy is much larger than we think. But since conspiracy is linked with 'idiots' who believe in anything you tell them as long it's juicy enough, made conspiracy a retarded issue.

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Thomas Swan 2 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thanks for reading Buildreps. You're right that some conspiracies do exist, and I wish people would research them properly. I agree that those who credulously believe everything they hear are only serving to obfuscate valuable truths. I watched a conspiracy video recently which talked about how the West has been demonizing Assad for political objectives. I thought, yes, they are! Then the video started talking about the United Nations taking over America and changing the size of bridges so that the tanks will be able to roll underneath. All I could think then was "Oh well, that's another valuable truth getting lumped in with utter nonsense." I don't think they do it deliberately (that would be a hell of a conspiracy), they're just a bit unstable.

The Israel issue is more history now than conspiracy, since people are able to forget history after a time. Some of the more outrageous claims are certainly conspiratorial. For example, I've looked at how Truman engineered support for the creation of Israel between 1945 and 1947. To me, it's clear he was racially biased; he bought votes from the Europeans and South Americans; and he himself was bribed with the support of the Zionist press for his re-election campaign. Is that a conspiracy? Possibly, though I've done my research, found the quotes, looked at his miraculous re-election, and so on.

There probably are "intelligent driven mechanisms" as you would put it, though I'd caution those who look too hard for them, and draw their attention to #3.

The invasion of privacy and rights is a great example of a conspiracy that is ostensibly true. Only recently the British government introduced new freedom-restricting legislation on the exact same day they issued a "red warning" to scare the people about terrorism. No attack came, the legislation passed, the media kept silent. and the populace remained largely oblivious. Then, of course, there's the Patriot Act.

A simple rule I go by is "don't trust those who use fear to get what they want". Fear won the Scottish referendum too recently.... another travesty.

With the NSA and the inequality of resources, I'm not sure you're mentioning conspiracies here either, though other people might call them that. They're either clear truths, or things that in all probability will happen.

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Besarien 18 months ago

Well the reason people believe that the powers that be never tell us the whole truth, is because they don't. In the absence of all the facts it is only natural to cobble together our own hypotheses that fit all the facts as we know them. To misquote Inigo Montoya, I don't think Conspiracy means what you think it means. It means that more than one person was involved. That means 911 was a conspiracy by definition because who ever was responsible, it took more than one person to pull it off. The term "conspiracy theorist" is just more disinformation to discredit skeptics who don't buy the official versions of events as handed down by the Warren Commission or these days by Rupert Murdoch. Everyone who isn't skeptical enough to be considered a "conspiracy theorist" is a little touched in the head as far as I'm concerned.

Larry Wall 16 months ago

Thomas: I agree with most of your observations about conspiracy theories. As a reporter for a small-town newspaper (a very good small-town paper), we had a group of people who tried to connect several political leaders to a scheme to skim money off the local budget for some alleged cause. The people being accused could not agree on the day of the week, much less a conspiracy. Auditor reviewed the books. I reviewed the auditor's finding, and the result was that what was viewed as a money-laundering scheme by some was an accounting term called depreciation. There was no conspiracy, just people who wanted to make trouble for others. The biggest problem I have in this issue is determing when does an action, that many may not like, but is within legal bounds, become a conspiracy that is never resolved.

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 16 months ago from New Zealand Author

Thanks for commenting Besarien. I agree that governments don't tell us the truth, but how much of the truth they withhold is up for update. I think people like Julian Assange and Edward Snowden have done the world a favor by providing answers for that debate. The desire of various authorities to lock them up for it is not quite as alarming as the blind public who would be happy to let them.

I think it's up to conspiracy theorists to use evidence and logic in a way that warrants greater respect. For example, I was recently accused of being conspiratorial when I talked about how the US had a role in the Ukraine coup in 2014. However, I had evidence, not from some infowars blog, or RT, but from the US State Department website. It made a clear case that a pre-coup visit to Ukraine was about getting a new government in place. It's the use of evidence and logic that determines whether "conspiracy theorist" is a pejorative term or not.

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Thomas Swan 16 months ago from New Zealand Author

Thanks Larry, I think that's a good example of how conspiracies are sometimes used to whip up a frenzy by appealing to the biases of the public. I expect people who didn't like those politicians would have been quite happy to believe the lies. Of course, the politicians involved would have been motivated to stop the story coming out. It must be difficult to find an impartial opinion when it comes to cases like that.

Larry Wall 16 months ago

I do not know if you can really have an impartial opinion. Not to mince words, we may be able to have an impartial observation, but opinion, by nature almost always has to reflect a viewpoint. We just have to determine who has the most impartial opinion and as you and I know, people can have different views on the same subject.

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lone77star 13 months ago from Cebu, Philippines

Dr. Swan, you give an interesting, but incomplete list.

The one major item you left off the list is the idea that some conspiracy theories are based upon facts.

Conspiracies are dirt common, because people tend to be selfish or self-concerned. Examples:

* Two boys conspire to steal cookies from the kitchen while mommy is at the store.

* A guy buys drugs on the street from the neighborhood dealer.

* A john asks for sex and gets it.

* Watergate break-in.

* Climate-Gate hiding data from other scientists and discussions of destroying the data. (Not very science-like.)

* Every war ever started did not begin by accident.

* Assassination of Julius Caesar.

* According to the deathbed confession of E. Howard Hunt, the JFK assassination.

* According to the confessions of Dr. William Thompson of the CDC, the hiding of data that MMR vaccines and autism are connected.

* The fact that the CDC conducted illegal and unethical experiments on black men in Tuskegee, Alabama, giving them syphilis and tracking their illnesses until they died.

* A student hires someone to write their term paper.

* During an exam, two students share answers while the professor (me) was not looking. 80% of the answers were wrong, but they matched between the two students' papers. Matching right answers are hard to prove cheating; matching wrong answers almost guarantee it.

In every one of these cases, someone wanted something they did not have and talked to someone else for help in getting it. In each case, the thing needed was unethical or illegal. And in some cases, even some laws are illegal -- like the ones that go counter to a nation's Constitution.

I'm sure your reasons apply to some people, but you missed a huge category -- those who want to know the truth and who follow the facts.

By my estimation, looking at crime statistics and other statistics for those unethical or illegal actions which require more than one person to be involved, there are, on average, at least 489 new conspiracies starting somewhere in the world every second, day-in and day-out, all year long. And this is a conservative figure, taking the low end of ranges and estimates.

What is interesting is that Americans and many West Europeans have a knee-jerk reaction to the word "conspiracy" -- automatically dismissing the idea. Many other countries' citizens do not have this reaction. Curious! That reaction was me for decades, until I noticed myself doing it in class, responding to a student's question on "conspiracies."

There is more to the universe than is dreamt of in your philosophy, dear Dr. Swan. I hope you're humble enough to learn something new.

Take 9/11, for instance. For a decade, I believed the official conspiracy theory (about 19 hijackers, 4 planes and 3 buildings in NY).

But then I learned that there was an explosion in the basement before the first airplane strike (William Rodriguez). The WTC security was run by a company which had Marvin Bush (president's younger brother) employed until a few months before 9/11, and was run by CEO Wirt Walker III, a distant Bush cousin.

You remark that Al Qaeda may have placed explosives in the buildings, but this seems extremely unlikely, given the heightened security after the 1993 bombing. And WTC7 had the largest office of the CIA outside of Langley. I really can't see Al Qaeda spending weeks or months placing explosives in sensitive areas of the building without the CIA knowing; but hey, Al Qaeda used to be a CIA operation in Afghanistan.

The fact that WTC7 fell at perfect free fall for the first 8 floors of collapse shows that controlled demolition was involved. Why? Because nowhere in this universe has solid steel ever offered zero resistance.

The fact that Mayor Giuliani committed felony destruction of crime scene evidence at the largest crime in American history just blows my mind. Incredible. And he can't declare ignorance of the law, because he was a former federal prosecutor. Oops!

The fact that the top military officers responsible for the massive security failures on 9/11 all received promotions instead of courts martial is highly suspicious. I've never known the military to reward incompetence before, but to do it half a dozen times with top ranking officers during the worst disaster since Pearl Harbor, stretches the imagination toward disbelief.

That scientists at America's bureau of standards (NIST) would fudge their calculations by starting their countdown of WTC7 collapse a second early and then take average acceleration -- that's scientific fraud! Then, when they were caught by independent investigators, NIST scientists finally accept perfect free fall for the first 2.6 seconds after initiation of collapse, but ignore the consequences of that fact. Instead, they try to sell the world on steel that offers zero resistance. I really, really, really don't think they are that stupid. But the only other option is that they are corrupt to the core. First fraud and then cover-up.

Let us say that there was only one conspiracy -- Al Qaeda's. The rest was merely incompetence? Really? I was that naive, before I started looking at the facts.

But you miss one big fact on the idea of looking at alternative explanations. Alternative explanations are always good, so long as you don't swallow them whole cloth. If those alternatives explain only one problem, but fail to explain several others, then they are no good.

That's the problem with every 9/11 "debunker" I've ever read or seen on YouTube. They supply an alternative explanation that, while clever, fails to explain other facts. That's fake skepticism.

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    Thomas Swan profile image

    Thomas Swan537 Followers
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    Dr. Thomas Swan studied cognition and culture at Queen's University Belfast. He's researched a range of psychological traits and disorders.

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