Why do people believe conspiracies?

Dan Wilson

Senior Member.
Hello, I am new to this web site but I have enjoyed reading the discussions here for a long time now. I often wonder what makes conspiracy theories so abundant and easy to spread. I recently came across a study done by psychologist Jennifer Whitson at the University of Texas testing the influences of uncertainty on pattern recognition. The general hypothesis of her experiment was that when people have uncertainty and lack control, they are more likely to make connections and see patterns that aren't there.
She was featured in Through The Wormhole with Morgan Freeman, her segment starts at 18:02
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vm971ltF44A

Her experiment results were also published in Science. Here are some quotes from her paper:





 

George B

Extinct but not forgotten Staff Member
Hello, I am new to this web site but I have enjoyed reading the discussions here for a long time now. I often wonder what makes conspiracy theories so abundant and easy to spread. I recently came across a study done by psychologist Jennifer Whitson at the University of Texas testing the influences of uncertainty on pattern recognition. The general hypothesis of her experiment was that when people have uncertainty and lack control, they are more likely to make connections and see patterns that aren't there.
She was featured in Through The Wormhole with Morgan Freeman, her segment starts at 18:02
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vm971ltF44A

Her experiment results were also published in Science. Here are some quotes from her paper:






Fascinating . . . this correlates with my anecdotal musings . . . looking for a pattern myself where it may not exist . . . LoL!!! This could be an element in the motivations for a belief in the Chemtrails . . . many supporters have a strong belief that the authorities are corrupt and untrustworthy (leading to a lack of control in their otherwise ordered life) so with minimal evidence they connect the dots and see relationships which others see as tenuous . . .
 

George B

Extinct but not forgotten Staff Member
These results may be interesting to you . . . http://www.godlikeproductions.com/forum1/message1720852/pg1

 
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Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Lack of control motivating pattern perception seem to tie in with Michael Shermer's discussion of pattern recognition as an evolutionary response. We are primed to recognize threats, like wolves in the trees. It's evolutionarily advantageous for the brain to err on the side of caution - so the brain that fires off more recognitions will live longer than one that fires off less, even if the recognitions are faulty. Just picture how many times squirrels look up in fear when there's actually no threat.

Lack of control is going to increase fear, which should increase the brains pattern recognition frequency, leading to more false positives. Like when you walk along a dark alley at night, you start to see more shapes in the darkness if you are alone vs. if you are with some big strong friends.

Hmm, and in this TED talk, Shermer references Whitson:

http://www.ted.com/talks/michael_shermer_the_pattern_behind_self_deception.html
 

George B

Extinct but not forgotten Staff Member
Why do people believe in conspiracies and specifically chemtrails?

1) Our history, literature, legends, entertainment, even our religions are replete with conspiracies . . .

2) Remember . . . Where more than two people are gathered . . . a conspiracy exists . . . LoL!!!

3) The world is obviously changing . . . instant communication, population density, technology, number and frequency of aircraft . . . and therefore, the greater chance to see persistent trails in the sky . . . and no one has convinced believers these trails cannot be chemtrails . . .

4) Trust of authority and their motives are at an all time low . . . i.e. "Just one in 10 Americans approves of the job Congress is doing, according to a Gallup poll released Tuesday, tying the branch's lowest approval rating in 38 years. Congress originally hit the 10 percent mark in February, before bouncing back several points."
[
link to www.huffingtonpost.com]


5) Constant, heated and contentious debate exists over the state of global warming, global dimming, ozone depletion, and whether people are the major cause of a deteriorating climate and environment . . . or not. . . these public, political debates have harmed scientists' credibility effectively from much of the public . . .

6) Atmospheric science is a complex and dynamic science . . . with infinite variability and unlimited sources of contamination, natural as well as man made . . .

7) In my opinion, when people were encouraged to observe the sky because of the chemtrail conspiracy . . . there was a significant realization . . . there was much more to see than people thought . . . I believe some people had a primeval moment . . . the sky was always the source of foreboding and early warning . . . Storm clouds, smoke, volcanic ash, dust storms, migrating fowl and seasonal changes . . . the sky is our crystal ball !!!!

8) The conspiracy has a life of its own . . . no amount of argument or scientific theory will likely remove those who believe . . . from their conspiracy . . . because of their distrust of scientists, authority, primeval foreboding, and knowledge, experience and belief in conspiracies.
 
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JRBids

Senior Member.
And of course you can't leave out the fact the the internet allows like minded individuals to "find each other" and reaffirm their fears. Look at the gang stalking/targeted individual community.
 

George B

Extinct but not forgotten Staff Member
Comments I made in a different thread about Chemtrail advocates . . .

https://www.metabunk.org/threads/584-Do-you-believe-in-any-paranormal-or-supernatural-abilities. #10
 
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Dan Wilson

Senior Member.
This could be an element in the motivations for a belief in the Chemtrails . . . many supporters have a strong belief that the authorities are corrupt and untrustworthy (leading to a lack of control in their otherwise ordered life) so with minimal evidence they connect the dots and see relationships which others see as tenuous . . .
Totally agree, thank you for the link. It seems to be a trend with every conspiracy. For example, with the U.S. election just behind us I have been seeing a lot more people talking about corrupt bankers or other entities sitting behind the curtain and what not. I think a lot goes into the psychology of it all but I think most that I could think of have been hit in this thread.

Hmm, and in this TED talk, Shermer references Whitson:

http://www.ted.com/talks/michael_she...deception.html

Excellent TedTalk! I actually recall seeing this a while back, its interesting that he referenced Whitson.
 

Lee Wilson

New Member
Excellent thread, something I've been looking at lately too (correlation between lack of control and conspiracism).
 

Jay Reynolds

Senior Member.
So, how can this idea be used for more successful debunking?

Can an alternate pattern of truth through logic be taught instead of the false pattern?

Could you introduce something that instills a sense of control greater than the previous belief system?

It would have to be more attractive in order to replace a deeply held belief.

It might have to be repeated to be learned.

The barrier to doing that might be the dissonance, the hurt feelings, how could the person change without hurting themselves?
 

HappyMonday

Moderator
So, how can this idea be used for more successful debunking?

Can an alternate pattern of truth through logic be taught instead of the false pattern?

Could you introduce something that instills a sense of control greater than the previous belief system?

It would have to be more attractive in order to replace a deeply held belief.

It might have to be repeated to be learned.

The barrier to doing that might be the dissonance, the hurt feelings, how could the person change without hurting themselves?

An understanding of the scientific method is a start,as it's a pretty empowering thing. As soon as people start to 'question everything' they conveniently lend equal credibility to all sources of evidence. That's the point at which they start to filter out evidence which contradicts their beliefs in my opinion.

With CT believers it seems pointless to push them after that point,as the confrontation just strengthens their beliefs,and they get to 'defeat' you (or to stop the dissonance you cause) by clicking block or sticking their fingers in their ears,for which they then get congratulated by the rest of the community.

I just think it's a propaganda battle from here on.Innoculate those dabbling in CT but not yet convinced,and give those who do manage to grow out of it as little ridicule as possible as they return to sense.
 

George B

Extinct but not forgotten Staff Member
An understanding of the scientific method is a start,as it's a pretty empowering thing. As soon as people start to 'question everything' they conveniently lend equal credibility to all sources of evidence. That's the point at which they start to filter out evidence which contradicts their beliefs in my opinion.

With CT believers it seems pointless to push them after that point,as the confrontation just strengthens their beliefs,and they get to 'defeat' you (or to stop the dissonance you cause) by clicking block or sticking their fingers in their ears,for which they then get congratulated by the rest of the community.

I just think it's a propaganda battle from here on.Innoculate those dabbling in CT but not yet convinced,and give those who do manage to grow out of it as little ridicule as possible as they return to sense.
Belief in the power of the scientific method will not convince people who distrust authority to trust authority . . . even if you get people past believing every persistent contrail is a Chemtrail . . . .

 

Trigger Hippie

Senior Member.
I often wonder what makes conspiracy theories so abundant and easy to spread.

I suspect one of the reasons conspiracy theories spread is because they're fun to talk about. Absolutely everyone will have an opinion and can easily participate in the discussion. No expertise required.

Some people will allow themselves to believe simply for the entertainment value. They don't take the stuff too seriously or let it affect their lives. Like watching a scary movie about demons and such. People suspend disbelief for a moment to allow themselves to get scared. it's fun. Once the movie's over, so is the fear, and they go back to not believing in devils and exorcisms. That's my take based on very unscientific observations of friends and family.

What drives the hardcore grand conspiracy true believers is a different story. The governments microwave mind rays?
 

George B

Extinct but not forgotten Staff Member
I think part of the problem is a fundamental disconnect between the Experts and the average person in the street . . . to much crap has been published for anyone to accept the experts opinions without serious skepticism . . .

 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
I think part of the problem is a fundamental disconnect between the Experts and the average person in the street . . . to much crap has been published for anyone to accept the experts opinions without serious skepticism . . .


That's just anti-science nonsense. People don't trust science because A) they have been told not to, and B) it's hard to understand. While there are biases in science, there is a VAST amount of very solid work and an incredible amount of progress in our understanding of how the world works.
 

George B

Extinct but not forgotten Staff Member
That's just anti-science nonsense. People don't trust science because A) they have been told not to, and B) it's hard to understand. While there are biases in science, there is a VAST amount of very solid work and an incredible amount of progress in our understanding of how the world works.
I agree with you . . . however, the damage is also significant . . . all institutions are under attack, not just science . . . nothing is held above reproach anymore . . . we have become a world of unbelievers . . .
 

Dan Wilson

Senior Member.
So, how can this idea be used for more successful debunking?

Can an alternate pattern of truth through logic be taught instead of the false pattern?

Could you introduce something that instills a sense of control greater than the previous belief system?

It would have to be more attractive in order to replace a deeply held belief.

It might have to be repeated to be learned.

The barrier to doing that might be the dissonance, the hurt feelings, how could the person change without hurting themselves?

Those are good questions and I agree that it is difficult to convince people who are already so consumed in it. I think in this case, this sense of a lack of control comes from a perspective that views the world as getting worse and worse in one way or another. An idea that I would suggest to reverse this is to show people that this is certainly not the case and that people pooling their work and ideas together has been increasing living standards for centuries. Matt Ridley's ideas that he proposes in his book The Rational Optimist, and his TedTalk, elaborate on the history and economics of how prosperity has progressed over time and provide a lot of good evidence for it.
Personally, I think that this kind of information puts conspiracy theories at a huge disadvantage. If power-hungry corrupt rich men are actively trying to control, poison, and steal from the population, a significant increase in overall living standards would kind of be a huge problem with that idea. I mostly say this because it has been my experience with conspiracy theories. I'm embarrassed to admit that I was once swayed by a couple of conspiracy theories, but a number of sources similar to Matt Ridley's book are what really started to change my mind.
I might have rambled a little, but the point is that I think showing conspiracy theorists that improvement in society is and has been accelerating thanks to the efforts of normal people as well as bodies they have come to distrust can be a huge help. It could help take the cynicism out of their judgement.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
I agree with you . . . however, the damage is also significant . . . all institutions are under attack, not just science . . . nothing is held above reproach anymore . . . we have become a world of unbelievers . . .

Well, not entirely. I think perhaps since you spend a lot of time in that world of unbelievers then it seems bigger than it actually is. There's still a solid chunk of people who have a quite reasonable view of science, and a fairly straightforward view of the world that does not require illuminati style conspiracies.
 

Jay Reynolds

Senior Member.
Don't ask them to trust authority. That is just another appeal to authority. They are just as likely to heed an appeal to the wrong sort of authority, so that's a knife that cuts both ways.

Show them how to become the authority for themselves.
Make it exciting to change by offering newer and more exciting patterns to observe and make genuine conclusions rather than the ones that got them into the false set of conclusions.

That is the utility I see in Mick's Interactive Flight/Contrail Visualization program, for example.

It is also the inspiration I had for getting folks to use Flight Explorer to track "chemtrail" flights and later on to do telescopic photography to identify planes they see.

All of these activities empower the individual to seek out personal knowledge separate from just making assumptions or relying on an appeal to authority.

At this point they have to first find out about the idea, then choose to take the leap. The lazy or stupid won't do it of course. They are lost anyways, sad to say.

This is currently hindered by the leadership who have chosen a status quo in which they remain the arbiters and priesthood of knowledge for their own personal egos and ambitions.

I've seen it work.

I've also seen it fail, such as when G. Edward Griffin suggested using the worthless planefinder app., then wouldn't publish his results because it contradicted his previous belief. He is scared to change, scared of peers or of profit loss, or just loss of face by an admission of error which cost his floowers tens of thousands of dollars making a junk movie.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Don't ask them to trust authority. That is just another appeal to authority. They are just as likely to heed an appeal to the wrong sort of authority, so that's a knife that cuts both ways.

Show them how to become the authority for themselves.
Make it exciting to change by offering newer and more exciting patterns to observe and make genuine conclusions rather than the ones that got them into the false set of conclusions.

That is the utility I see in Mick's Interactive Flight/Contrail Visualization program, for example.

Yeah, there's a number of principles there:

Show, don't tell - people don't like being lectured, but they do like feeling clever, and the thrill of discovery
Offer a replacement explanation - don't just say their explanation is bunk. People don't like holes in their world view
Don't be a dick - people can be very sensitive, and you have to adjust your approach accordingly based on how they perceive things as rude, and not on your own standards of what is or is not rude. In particular, any hint of things being in the mind, or any hint that they are slightly unintelligent or misinformed. This they need to discover for themselves, or preferably be bypassed altogether.
 

HappyMonday

Moderator
Belief in the power of the scientific method will not convince people who distrust authority to trust authority . . . even if you get people past believing every persistent contrail is a Chemtrail . . . .

If everybody were able to assign weight to evidence based on it's scientific validity, there wouldn't be anybody that believed a persistent contrail is a chemtrail.

I'm saying I think it's too late for intervention once they buy in, the only method I can see to drag them back by force (as it were) would be the pretense of sympathy to gain trust, and then gradually trying to make them doubt the ideas. That's collusion, and I'd shy away from that course of action.

Debunking their claims is a public show in my eyes, to hopefully draw the gaze of others who are in danger of following the believer down the same road.
 

Dan Wilson

Senior Member.
I suspect one of the reasons conspiracy theories spread is because they're fun to talk about. Absolutely everyone will have an opinion and can easily participate in the discussion. No expertise required.

It is fun, conspiracy theories are often exciting and fantastic while fact-checking and digging through sources can be tedious. Every time Halloween comes around my friends like to go to see a professor lecture about ghosts, show pictures of orbs, and play EVPs. My favorite is when he does the flashlight trick. All absolute junk, but pretty exciting stuff complete with plenty of screams and thrills, and afterwards they believe it 100%. I imagine conspiracy conventions being similar.
 

HappyMonday

Moderator
Yeah, there's a number of principles there:

Don't be a dick - people can be very sensitive, and you have to adjust your approach accordingly based on how they perceive things as rude, and not on your own standards of what is or is not rude. In particular, any hint of things being in the mind, or any hint that they are slightly unintelligent or misinformed. This they need to discover for themselves, or preferably be bypassed altogether.

I've found that people adjust their idea of what they consider rude if they don't want to hear you though. Everything I've said to some CT believers on twitter was interpreted as rude purely because it wasn't fawning agreement.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
I'm saying I think it's too late for intervention once they buy in, the only method I can see to drag them back by force (as it were) would be the pretense of sympathy to gain trust, and then gradually trying to make them doubt the ideas. That's collusion, and I'd shy away from that course of action.

You don't need to lie to people to gain their trust. You can be critical, and yet very polite, and just engage in discourse with them so they at least feel that they are taken seriously.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
I've found that people adjust their idea of what they consider rude if they don't want to hear you though. Everything I've said to some CT believers on twitter was interpreted as rude purely because it wasn't fawning agreement.

Perhaps because you started off on the wrong foot? Initial impressions are very hard to break.
 

HappyMonday

Moderator
You don't need to lie to people to gain their trust. You can be critical, and yet very polite, and just engage in discourse with them so they at least feel that they are taken seriously.

I understand this though I'm the first to admit it's not my forte. There is still a percentage with whom criticism IS impolite no matter how I've flowered it up.
 

Dan Wilson

Senior Member.
Show them how to become the authority for themselves.

With how available information is today I think that is a very strong option. Matt Ridley argues that many things in science and economics are more bottom-up than top-down and I would agree with him. The ordinary individual today is more empowered than ever before in history. It is an art, however, finding good information and good sources among the bunk.

This is currently hindered by the leadership who have chosen a status quo in which they remain the arbiters and priesthood of knowledge for their own personal egos and ambitions.

Do you think that is a driving force in a lot of disciplines?
 

George B

Extinct but not forgotten Staff Member
Well, not entirely. I think perhaps since you spend a lot of time in that world of unbelievers then it seems bigger than it actually is. There's still a solid chunk of people who have a quite reasonable view of science, and a fairly straightforward view of the world that does not require illuminati style conspiracies.
Funny, I have felt the way I do long before the Internet existed . . . must be my nature . . . started for me during the Vietnam War . . .
 

Jay Reynolds

Senior Member.
This is currently hindered by the leadership who have chosen a status quo in which they remain the arbiters and priesthood of knowledge for their own personal egos and ambitions.
Do you think that is a driving force in a lot of disciplines?

Sure, ego is always a factor in group dynamics. I was referencing the status quo of the chemtrail conspiracy theory. The leadership has been fully informed how to answer the primary question which underpins the mystery part of chemtrails, the identity of the planes. Learning the exact identity of these planes can easily be done by individuals using flight tracking software, and even more individually documented by telescopic photography. I forwarded all of the leaders this information years ago. They never want to discuss it because it not only ends the mystery aspect but empowers individals to begin a movement which they cannot control in which their power will be ended.
 
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George B

Extinct but not forgotten Staff Member
Sure, ego is always a factor in group dynamics. I was referencing the status quo of the chemtrail conspiracy theory. The leadership has been fully informed how to answer the primary question which underpins the mystery part of chemtrails, the identity of the planes. Learning the exact identity of these planes can easily be done by individuals using flight tracking software, and even more individually documented by telescopic photography. I forwarded all of the leaders this information years ago. They never want to discuss it because it not only ends the mystery aspect but empowers individals to begin a movement which they cannot control in which their power will be ended.
I actually agree with you if the foundation of their belief is that persistent contrails are evidence of chemtrails . . . .
 
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lotek

Active Member
meh...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Observer-expectancy_effect
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spontaneous_order
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illusory_correlation
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pollyanna_principle
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_bias_mitigation
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_inertia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Representativeness_heuristic
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halo_effect
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindsight_bias
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escalation_of_commitment
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selective_exposure_theory
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pollyanna_principle

pretty sure mick wrote this. i found it here and love it:

"It's an interesting quote because it speaks to one of the factors that keep conspiracy theories alive - the sense of self-importance and validation that the adherents get from their possession of secret knowledge. You see this all the time in their language - being "awake", not being a "sheep". They also generally claim to have excellent observational skills, and a perfect memory. Many conspiracy theorists feel they are part of the "discerning few"."
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Another suggested factor - paranoia as a reaction to the existential loneliness of modern existence.

 

lotek

Active Member
Anecdotally I would have to agree with that.

When I was much younger i was in a highly paranoid, educated, existential loneliness bubble for about 5years. to be a smart teenager... However, to not get into it much(tl:dr), I presented these symptoms as well and agree with the findings.

My paranoid existence was geared to making me feel above the non-participating. I showed clear signs of chemical or behavioral addiction to the paranoia, depression, elitism, and isolation. i thought i was soooooo damn smart. it didn't help that i was, but nothing near what i thought. I felt like Neo every day. awake. plugged in, unplugged, open, a wolf amongst sheep. I was creating the problems as an active defense against my lack of social function. I wasn't depressed and paranoid, I was elated and addicted to the rush of the various mechanisms. Even sadness was a self created system. A positive function I used.

The paranoia granted me massive sense of superiority. A way to dismiss the people and society in which i didnt fit. I was better. Far, far better... I was a little genius boy. Product of "everyone is special", and gifted education. Neo in the flesh i would have sworn. pro euthanasia, active population control, brith restrictions, and genetic defect control. mass prohibition and control. Progress at the cost of humanity... I know this is fiction, but i cannot help to look to the borg from startrek.. Elitist progress at the cost of humanity.

Then i learned of my hubris. if i was so far corruptible, and i am no better than any man, then so can be everyone so corrupted. No one can be trusted with such powers. Atleast no one alone. The liberal syndrome. I know better than you so let me change your life for you.

The best lesson i have learned. The degree of my childhood hubris. The true equality within humanity. I am not awake, or a wolf above sheep. I was just fucking crazy....

Just an anecdote, but I bet most who claim to be "AWAKE" act much the same way.

Edit: Yes, this is just another way to put myself above those who put themself above the sheep........ as a person i cant really remove that factor.. lol
 

Joe

Senior Member
Why do people believe in conspiracy theories ? Because everything else is a lie ! Because there is NO TRUST !
 

TheCorruptOnes

New Member
Its because those in control lie about almost everything. The government lies, they cover up everything and there is lack of transparency. They black out everything in documents, they show up at your door with guns to your faces. The so called "scholarly" books that we read from are owned by the same people that own the news media and the banks. Everything is rigged. There are many secret societies that influence the world. The vatican keeps important books away from the rest of the world. The Federal Reserve's owners are not disclosed. Most wars are not about fighting for freedom, but about making a profit. Just about everything I was taught to believe as a child and as a teenager has been a complete hoax. I can go on and on. That is why.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Just about everything I was taught to believe as a child and as a teenager has been a complete hoax. I can go on and on. That is why.

What specifically were you taught that you now know to be a hoax. What's the biggest thing? How were you taught it?
 

TheCorruptOnes

New Member
What specifically were you taught that you now know to be a hoax. What's the biggest thing? How were you taught it?

History and the governments role to be specific. I mean when one powerful family, the Rockefellers, has control of all of what is put into "scholastic" books that end up in our schools, and what is put into our media, its sad that anything else that veers away from those books is considered "conspiracy." What BS. And the fairness act that Reagan repealed in the 80's, the media is now just one giant propaganda machine. News outlets can make any claims they want because they are considered to be corporations. When was the last time you saw the NDAA brought up on NBC news with Brian Williams?
 

Chew

Senior Member.
History and the governments role to be specific. I mean when one powerful family, the Rockefellers, has control of all of what is put into "scholastic" books that end up in our schools, and what is put into our media, its sad that anything else that veers away from those books is considered "conspiracy." What BS. And the fairness act that Reagan repealed in the 80's, the media is now just one giant propaganda machine. News outlets can make any claims they want because they are considered to be corporations. When was the last time you saw the NDAA brought up on NBC news with Brian Williams?

You would appear to not understand the word "specific". Please name specific thing that is wrong in a college science book?
 
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