Why do some people believe strongly in conspiracy theories?

Whether its terrorists attacks/mass murder (9/11, 7,7, Newtown) or GMOs, Vaccines, etc. It seems that there is an extensive amount of ‘conspiracy’ literature on any of these topics.

Now, I don’t think this thread should go into the ridicule aspect even though 95% deserve ridicule for unproven and unscientific claims but what is the psychological reason why people believe in these? Mental illness? It’s actually surprising how many normal people believe these to a degree. Of course there are some with mental disorders and illness who turn to conspiracies, but I wouldn’t say that majority are that.

An explanation offered is that fear of accepting random chaotic events in our world makes us powerless and believing that there is a reason gives us hope. In the case of 9/11, aeroplanes filled with jet fuel that crashed into steel structures and created fireballs only seen in warzones was simply incomprehensible from the day to day perspective of the average person. How could 19 suicide hijackers give their lives and manage to kill 3,000 Americans on soil without any perceived effort on their part? It’s too painful, and angering for some people to admit. A government involvement is more comforting for some people to believe.

But another explanation is how the make life interesting. From personally watching videos like ‘7/7, Ripple Effect’ on the July 7th London bombings in my spare time on holidays, these videos actually appear more interesting than some movies. They may all be rubbish and most don’t offer entertainment but some do. Never having experienced terrorism first-hand and having no interest in conspiracies, I only encountered documentaries in forum posts or when a ‘conspirator’’ like David Icke came on television. Even though I don’t particularly care for 9/11 or 7/7, nor do I believe anything they say, the way the documentaries are made makes me interested in a ‘conspiracy’ perspective. Being honest, modern day life can be boring. And believing in conspiracy theories is almost like believing in God. It makes it more exciting to think that there is a purpose.
So do you find this true with your encounters with those who believe in conspiracies? Are they in fear of random events, is it just not to become bored to death with day to day life or do they have some psychological issue?

The feeling of superiority of “knowing” something that 99% of the sheeple don’t. Other people just accept reality as given to by their governments, while they are the ones who question everything and seek the real truth. Pretty good irony there.
Also, I believe there is a feeling of community between like-minded conspiracy folk. This is why they all share belief in the same theories, instead of everybody having a bunch of their own.

There are concerted efforts to bombard folks with false information, and many have few defenses against that onslaught. They don’t have the educational background to build a skeptical filter, and they spend time in echo chambers that back up what they hear. Once they’ve self-identified with a tribe, they want to accept everything from that tribe to increase their sense of belonging.

I’m really surprised that a good number of these people don’t engage in acts of terrorism or mass murder. Considering that the ‘gun confiscation by the government’ conspiracy is prominent in the US, I would expect that gun 'nuts (those who excessively obsess over weapons and believe that their Newton was a false flag to take away gun) would start planning shootings.

All it takes is for a seriously disenfranchised, aggressive, and chronically depressed individual to embrace some conspiracies and plan on committing a violent act.

We’ve had past threads on this. The ‘special knowledge’ makes the CT feel special comes up each time. There’s also something about their personality. One thing you’ll see is some kind of underlying grudge, a feeling that the person has been cheated somehow, a bit of paranoia, perhaps envy, but something that makes them want a conspiracy theory to be true. But I think the main thing beyond all other motivations is the sense of superiority the CT feels in knowing and understanding something that other people don’t get.

ETA: I say that is the main thing for the people who loudly push their CT. People who may just be coping with fear or a confusing world may believe in CTs, but that wouldn’t by itself drive them to try to convince others.

Why People Believe Weird Things? is an excellent overview of the subject.

I am not familiar with the book but Shermer writes the Skeptic column for Scientific American and runs *Skeptic *magazine. Most of his work is pretty good, although sometimes I think he is in too much of a rush to debunk things.

People, as a group, tend to like easy answers to things that suggest that for everything that happens, someone is able to control it. This explains religion, firing coaches after a couple of losing seasons, conspiracy theories, and the stock market. On a related note, The Drunkard’s Walk talks about how little we can actually control because outcomes are driven by such a large number of variables, many of them random and uncontrollable. But people insist on believing that someone can be, and is, in control.

There are conspiracy theories, however, that cannot be explained this way, such as faking the moon landing. A comprehensive theory about how this could have been faked, and then kept secret by the thousands of people who would have been involved, is massively more complex than the simple truth. I never understood why there would be more than a handful of nut cases who believe this.

This one, like many CTs has the element of drawing a conclusion first then looking for evidence to support it. From that position it’s easy to ignore all the contradicting evidence.

For many people, there is something comforting about the idea that someone is out to get you.
There has been seemingly lopsided officiating against your team all season, and seemingly lopsided officiating in favor of your hated rival all season? Conspiracy!

An important point I think is that many CT supporters have become cynical or radicalized by knowing real historical and contemporary CTs. When they become uncomfortable defending their more outlandish idea they’ll retreat to pointing out one of these:

  • Dreyfuss affair
  • Creel commission
  • Spain baby trafficking scandal
  • CIA and other American directed coups, other CIA activities (Mockingbird, MKUltra, drug running)
  • Tuskegee experiments
  • Iran-Contra
  • False testimony of Nayirah
  • Iraq invasion based on fraudulent evidence
  • Torture at CIA black sites
  • NSA mass spying and data collection
  • LIBOR scandal
  • HSBC money laundering scandals
  • Industry covering up harmful effects of asbestos, smoking, global warming

If the Gulf of Tonkin never happened, and there was so much propaganda around various interventions in Iraq, or that PNAC admitted a Pearl Harbour type event would benefit their cause, then a 9/11 CT sorta makes sense. But there’s no evidence or documentation for such a thing, so they go off the rails looking for patterns that aren’t there.

The problem is a lot of people fall all the way down the slippery slope. Now it seems as if every news story is a CT. Everything’s a false flag, everyone’s a crisis actor.

I have a couple of cousins like this. The thing is, they think I am the one who is under educated or blind to what is happening. They honestly pity me for not believing in FEMA camps or gun grabs or JADE HELM. Uneducated and highly credulous is a dangerous combination.

Who wants to know, and why do you want to know? And how do I know that the Illuminati won’t use this information against me?

It’s a cry for attention … I can generally bring an entire room into silence when I describe how the Moon landings were faked or why the Warren Commission had a secret agenda … there’s just something pleasing about the looks of adoration I get until they figure out I’m full of shit …

I can’t recall any having pointed to the Dreyfus Affair. But I think that’s the only one of the “real conspiracies” on your list that actually was unraveled in large part by dedicated amateurs.

Internet sleuths seem incapable of uncovering anything on their own, no matter how many websites, books and forums are devoted to their pet causes.

In addition to the psychological benefits of being among the select few “in the know” and the joy of knowing simplistic answers to complex problems, these people have one key factor in common - they lack basic critical thinking skills, and are uninterested in acquiring them.

Jackmannii, Pharma/CDC/Illuminati Shill, Senior Grade.

Absolutely. Within minutes of being reported, the “gun” at the Trump rally (yes, I know there wasn’t one), the black church burning, the GOP office firebombing in NC, and a few other newsworthy events all had people calling them false flags. Within minutes - before we had a chance to get any information at all. Certainly it wasn’t the majority of people, but the ideas weren’t being shot down by the majority of same-political-party posters, either.

The closest example to this I can think of is the investigation into the CIA torture program where hobby plane spotters in America and Europe would record information about planes going in and out of military bases and publish their findings on the internet, sometimes with photographs. I don’t think they cracked the case though, their info was used by journalists.

Most real CTs are uncovered by journalists, government investigations, leaks, or someone in the know talking. Maybe there’s examples of more localized CTs being uncovered by an amateur somewhere, but I haven’t heard of it. There are examples of amateurs discovering things in math, astronomy, criminal investigations, not so much shadowy organizations (unless you count the mob maybe).

I’m reminded of a bit from “China, IL” where a student insists that aliens helped build the pyramids because they’d be too complex to build without modern tools, to which the professor rejoins that they could and that he should stop projecting his own shortcomings onto others.

So yeah, a little of column A and a little of column B.

I think this explains much of the belief in CTs for the moon landings being faked and similar things. Someone decides that if he/she can’t personally figure out how to get to the Moon, nobody else could have either, so it **must **have been faked.

CT believing people want to feel smart and contrarian. They remind me of this exchange between Lois and Brian, from Family Guy. Brian was an ardent liberal until meeting Rush Limbaugh, and suddenly he’s a hyper-conservative

Ayup, pretty good, all in all.

(I was not fond of the chapter on Ayn Rand. Instead of explaining why objectivism is wrong, he spent most of that chapter talking about how weird Ayn Rand herself was. That struck me as a little like debunking relativity by noting that Albert Einstein was absent-minded. Okay, yeah, Ayn Rand was a froot loop. I still would have liked that chapter to have exposed the flaws in objectivism, not in its creator.)