Why people believe in conspiracy theories

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=moon-landing-faked-why-people-believe-conspiracy-theories
Moon Landing Faked!!!—Why People Believe in Conspiracy Theories
New psychological research helps explain why some see intricate government conspiracies behind events like 9/11 or the Boston bombing
By Sander van der Linden | Tuesday, April 30, 2013 | 109
(excerpt):
Since a number of studies have shown that belief in conspiracy theories is associated with feelings of powerlessness, uncertainty and a general lack of agency and control, a likely purpose of this bias is to help people “make sense of the world" by providing simple explanations for complex societal events — restoring a sense of control and predictability. A good example is that of climate change: while the most recent international scientific assessment report (receiving input from over 2500 independent scientists from more than a 100 countries) concluded with 90 percent certainty that human-induced global warming is occurring, the severe consequences and implications of climate change are often too distressing and overwhelming for people to deal with, both cognitively as well as emotionally. Resorting to easier explanations that simply discount global warming as a hoax is then of course much more comforting and convenient psychologically. Yet, as Al Gore famously pointed out, unfortunately, the truth is not always convenient.

This is interesting:

Another recent study indicates that receiving positive information about or even being merely exposed to conspiracy theories can lead people to become disengaged from important political and societal topics.
So it is true: those who strive for world power intentionally spread conspiracy theories, so that people will not be politically engaged. The people spreading conspiracy theories belong to one huge conspiracy! It is a meta-conspiracy! %-P

I have no data, but an idea that has been kicking around the back of my head recently is the connection between conspiracy theory and theism. Bear with me-
The question of an intricate and complicated natural universe has plagued many. The idea that such an intricate and complicated thing could not have occurred 'naturally" or “organized” itself is at the heart of many people’s belief in a divine creator. Darwinian Evolution provided a way to explain how a universe could develop into such a complicated place without appeal to designer. Many dismiss the idea of natural forces/selection being able to explain the complexities and cling to theism instead.
I see a parallel with history/conspiracy theory in the human world. While historians often accept the idea that the interactions of historical milieus can generate complicated human universes, that become ever more complicated and intricate over time, there are some who refuse to belief it can be produced by people just going about their daily business and insist that some sort of grand design must explain the realities of the human world today.
Its that inability to conceive of a"dance of interacting parts" rather than a line of dominoes that seems to be at the heart of both

This is interesting:
Another recent study indicates that receiving positive information about or even being merely exposed to conspiracy theories can lead people to become disengaged from important political and societal topics.
So it is true: those who strive for world power intentionally spread conspiracy theories, so that people will not be politically engaged. The people spreading conspiracy theories belong to one huge conspiracy! It is a meta-conspiracy! %-P
That's one way of looking at it, but a lot depends on whether a person sees many conspiracies. That's a sign of something being seriously wrong with his or her ability to correctly assess reality.
I have no data, but an idea that has been kicking around the back of my head recently is the connection between conspiracy theory and theism. Bear with me- The question of an intricate and complicated natural universe has plagued many. The idea that such an intricate and complicated thing could not have occurred 'naturally" or "organized" itself is at the heart of many people's belief in a divine creator. Darwinian Evolution provided a way to explain how a universe could develop into such a complicated place without appeal to designer. Many dismiss the idea of natural forces/selection being able to explain the complexities and cling to theism instead. I see a parallel with history/conspiracy theory in the human world. While historians often accept the idea that the interactions of historical milieus can generate complicated human universes, that become ever more complicated and intricate over time, there are some who refuse to belief it can be produced by people just going about their daily business and insist that some sort of grand design must explain the realities of the human world today. Its that inability to conceive of a"dance of interacting parts" rather than a line of dominoes that seems to be at the heart of both
Good point. Lois

One of the really huge factors which doesn’t help the situation is that the government DOES lie to it’s own people, then turns right around and demands our trust even though it often proves to be consistently unworthy of it.
The devil in this detail is that when the government IS honest, they just won’t be believed. (Unless it suits somebody’s agenda.)
In short, when it comes to inspiring confidence in their integrity, the government is it’s own worst enemy.

Interesting that there are papers explaining how people must be flawed and somehow not right in the head to believe in conspiracy theories. Did it ever occur to one of these researchers that the reason people are so paranoid is because they have every reason to be?! Along the lines of what Equal Op said, governments, and more so powerful governments, are constantly engaged in activities that seem hard to believe but do occur. I’m sounding like a broken record, but read Overthrow and/or Shock Doctrine. The phrase “shit happens” is accurate, or rather would still be accurate if it was “major shit happens”. Just think of the Koch brothers and how they bend government to their agenda. So anyone suggesting there are rich folks twisting politicians arms, or bribing them, or whatever to get laws passed, to sway a judge, etc. Is that all conspiracy?

Interesting that there are papers explaining how people must be flawed and somehow not right in the head to believe in conspiracy theories. Did it ever occur to one of these researchers that the reason people are so paranoid is because they have every reason to be?! Along the lines of what Equal Op said, governments, and more so powerful governments, are constantly engaged in activities that seem hard to believe but do occur. I'm sounding like a broken record, but read Overthrow and/or Shock Doctrine. The phrase "shit happens" is accurate, or rather would still be accurate if it was "major shit happens". Just think of the Koch brothers and how they bend government to their agenda. So anyone suggesting there are rich folks twisting politicians arms, or bribing them, or whatever to get laws passed, to sway a judge, etc. Is that all conspiracy?
Conspiracy theories are not just a matter of distrusting government, which is often warranted. It's the idea that large numbers of people can work in tamdem to create a complicated secret hoax over a long period of time. I don't think it's likely nor do I think it's something that, if it ever got off the ground, would be kept secret for long. There will always be someone who is in on the plan early on, but who pulls out for whatever reason, or someone who has a change of heart, or who feels guilty for his part or who felt left out of the loop, and spills the beans. Someone always talks sooner or later. It"s very difficult to keep a large number of people, or even a relatively small number, focused on a complicated task like a hoax, especially one that most people would think is immoral or dangerous, and yet remain silent. I just don't think it happens like that. I don't think human nature is like that. But there are plenty of people who get excited thinking of possible hoaxes and government intrigue who can't distinguish between reality and daydreams. They are the conspiracy theorists. I think there is something not quite right in their thinking apparatus. Lois
Conspiracy theories are not just a matter of distrusting government, which is often be warranted. It’s the idea that large numbers of people can work in tamdem to create a complicated secret hoax over a long period of time. I don’t think it’s likely nor do I think it’s something that, if it ever got off the ground, would be kept secret for long.
And the people who do hatch grand conspiracies don't even bother keeping it a secret. Hitler literally wrote a book advertising what he was going to do, and then everybody was surprised when he tried to do it. (And damned near succeeded!)
Interesting that there are papers explaining how people must be flawed and somehow not right in the head to believe in conspiracy theories. Did it ever occur to one of these researchers that the reason people are so paranoid is because they have every reason to be?! Along the lines of what Equal Op said, governments, and more so powerful governments, are constantly engaged in activities that seem hard to believe but do occur. I'm sounding like a broken record, but read Overthrow and/or Shock Doctrine. The phrase "shit happens" is accurate, or rather would still be accurate if it was "major shit happens". Just think of the Koch brothers and how they bend government to their agenda. So anyone suggesting there are rich folks twisting politicians arms, or bribing them, or whatever to get laws passed, to sway a judge, etc. Is that all conspiracy?
Conspiracy theories are not just a matter of distrusting government, which is often be warranted. It's the idea that large numbers of people can work in tamdem to create a complicated secret hoax over a long period of time. I don't think it's likely nor do I think it's something that, if it ever got off the ground, would be kept secret for long. There will always be someone who is in on the plan early on, but who pulls out for whatever reason, or someone who has a change of heart, or who feels guilty for his part or who felt left out of the loop, and spills the beans. Someone always talks sooner or later. It"s very difficult to keep a large number of people, or even a relatively small number, focussed on a complicated task like a hoax, especially one that most people would think is immoral or dangerous, and yet remain silent. I just don't think it happens like that. I don't think human nature is like that. But there are plenty of people who get excited thinking of possible hoaxes and government intrigue who can't distinguish between reality and daydreams. They are the conspiracy theorists. I think there is something not quite right in their thinking apparatus. Lois LoisI see your point but I DO think it's very possible for large groups of people to keep secret plans under wraps. Whoever you think pulled off 911, it involved at least 100 people, let's say. who would have definite knowledge (the perps plus those directly supporting them and doing the planning). Then there would be probably hundreds more who knew something was up but maybe not until after the fact would they know for sure (people supplying the perps with material support though not knowing exactly why). AND there were 100s more whose job it was to try to detect these types of plans. And yet it happened...no one let the cat out of the bag for several years across several countries. And on top of all that if you believe people or organizations will literally "silence" people who do try to speak out, I think we have a pretty convincing case to support the idea that, well secret sh%^ happens.
Interesting that there are papers explaining how people must be flawed and somehow not right in the head to believe in conspiracy theories. Did it ever occur to one of these researchers that the reason people are so paranoid is because they have every reason to be?! Along the lines of what Equal Op said, governments, and more so powerful governments, are constantly engaged in activities that seem hard to believe but do occur. I'm sounding like a broken record, but read Overthrow and/or Shock Doctrine. The phrase "shit happens" is accurate, or rather would still be accurate if it was "major shit happens". Just think of the Koch brothers and how they bend government to their agenda. So anyone suggesting there are rich folks twisting politicians arms, or bribing them, or whatever to get laws passed, to sway a judge, etc. Is that all conspiracy?
Conspiracy theories are not just a matter of distrusting government, which is often be warranted. It's the idea that large numbers of people can work in tamdem to create a complicated secret hoax over a long period of time. I don't think it's likely nor do I think it's something that, if it ever got off the ground, would be kept secret for long. There will always be someone who is in on the plan early on, but who pulls out for whatever reason, or someone who has a change of heart, or who feels guilty for his part or who felt left out of the loop, and spills the beans. Someone always talks sooner or later. It"s very difficult to keep a large number of people, or even a relatively small number, focussed on a complicated task like a hoax, especially one that most people would think is immoral or dangerous, and yet remain silent. I just don't think it happens like that. I don't think human nature is like that. But there are plenty of people who get excited thinking of possible hoaxes and government intrigue who can't distinguish between reality and daydreams. They are the conspiracy theorists. I think there is something not quite right in their thinking apparatus. Lois LoisI see your point but I DO think it's very possible for large groups of people to keep secret plans under wraps. Whoever you think pulled off 911, it involved at least 100 people, let's say. who would have definite knowledge (the perps plus those directly supporting them and doing the planning). Then there would be probably hundreds more who knew something was up but maybe not until after the fact would they know for sure (people supplying the perps with material support though not knowing exactly why). AND there were 100s more whose job it was to try to detect these types of plans. And yet it happened...no one let the cat out of the bag for several years across several countries. And on top of all that if you believe people or organizations will literally "silence" people who do try to speak out, I think we have a pretty convincing case to support the idea that, well secret sh%^ happens. I am not at all convinced that 100 people were involved in the 9/11 attack. I'm also not convinced that it wasn't cooked up in a matter of weeks by the bombers themselves. But most conspiracy theories aren't terrorist plots. Conspiracy theories , when it comes to attacks on the US, are that Americans were involved in it--quite a few Americans. It's possible and likely for ememy combatants to cook up a scheme with like minded people in their own part of the world. That is more like war. It's far less likely to not be uncovered if Americans are involved because they would have a completely different view of the situation and they live in the country under attack. I cant imagine many Americans who would get involved in a secret plot against the United States itself. There may be individual Americans who might do it, but not the large numbers it would require to hatch a conspiracy and for every one of them and everyone who might know about some aspect of it to remain silent over a substantial period of time, IMO. LL
I am not at all convinced that 100 people were involved in the 9/11 attack. I’m also not convinced that it wasn’t cooked up in a matter of weeks by the bombers themselves.
Actually, it's fairly well understood now that these guys operated and trained in the United States for several years,and they managed to do it using nothing more exotic then the same good old fashioned field craft perfected and used by intelligence for centuries. Most of the suspicion comes from the "Them-Thar-A-Rabs-Coundn't-Possibly-Pull Somethin'-Over Us Uhh-Mericuns" variety of bigotry. Well, the fact of the matter is that they did, and it wasn't that exceedingly hard. They played by the rules and did nothing really special to attract the attention of law enforcement.
I am not at all convinced that 100 people were involved in the 9/11 attack. I’m also not convinced that it wasn’t cooked up in a matter of weeks by the bombers themselves.
Actually, it's fairly well understood now that these guys operated and trained in the United States for several years,and they managed to do it using nothing more exotic then the same good old fashioned field craft perfected and used by intelligence for centuries. Most of the suspicion comes from the "Them-Thar-A-Rabs-Coundn't-Possibly-Pull Somethin'-Over Us Uhh-Mericuns" variety of bigotry. Well, the fact of the matter is that they did, and it wasn't that exceedingly hard. They played by the rules and did nothing really special to attract the attention of law enforcement.
It's also well understood that they were supported by a network of people assisting them, whether it was in Germany, Afghanistan, or in the US. So no, it wasn't some little homegrown operation. Even the Christian terrorists responsible for the Oklahoma bombing were supported by a network of support, though much smaller in size, even though the government portrayed them as two lone crazies. But that's (the 911 stuff) another thread on CFI that stretches from here to kingdom come :)
It’s also well understood that they were supported by a network of people assisting them, whether it was in Germany, Afghanistan, or in the US. So no, it wasn’t some little homegrown operation.
And I never stated otherwise. I was speaking to the sort of cultural and racist bigotry which is used to justify the claim that they couldn't have dunnit even though they did.

That the terrorists might have had help in their own countries, from governments, or other comrades, many of whom might also have been terrorists isnot the kind of "conspiracy "I was refering to. I meant the ones who claimed that Americans were in on the 9/11 bombing, even the US government. That’s what I find hard to believe and that’s what I think would be impossible to keep a lid on for long. We still have people dreaming up such conspiracies, and it’s what’s behind most of the intricate speculations about how the buildings came down and whether they could have been undermined by fire alone, and on and on. These days, the conspiracy theorists don’t seem to come right out and claim that the US government was behind bringing down the buildings by placing explosives in them, but that’s what they said right after the bombing. Now they seem to be content to blather on and on about physics and engineering anomalies that, in their minds, mean that “someone else,” unnamed, must have been involved in the destruction, without actually naming the US government, though some undoubtedly do. It’s not the people in Arab and middle eastern countries who might have been involved in the bombing who I said are going to rat out their own who might have been in on the plot–it’s that Americans, especially Americans in the government, whose involvement would be revealed either by the perpetrators themselves or by by people they knew who might have an axe to grind or who stand to make money. That’s what I meant when I said the conspiracies the conspiracy theorists claim are unlikely and the secrets wouldn’t last long. There are psychological reasons for this, but there isn’t space enough to describe them here.
Lois

I meant the ones who claimed that Americans were in on the 9/11 bombing, even the US government.
That actually speaks to what I was addressing, and the associated bigotry which goes along with it. There's another aspect and this is purely political. When Bush The Lesser was in office, a lot of the 9-11 denialism was coming from the left. Since Bush the Lesser left office, and Obama The Chicago Politrickster took office, most of the "Truthers" out there have been from the demographic which identifies itself as the right wing. The bottom line is that it's all about demagoguery, not reality. The people who do this sort of thing in all candor really don't care who dunnit. The care about making "The Guy From The Opposition" look bad.
The bottom line is that it's all about demagoguery, not reality. The people who do this sort of thing in all candor really don't care who dunnit. The care about making "The Guy From The Opposition" look bad. E.O.C.
I see those trends sometimes too. The initial points Lois made in this thread are relevant to me too. I think it is a "mental tic" for alot of people. The psychological mechanics that were described above are definite factors. Truth is always stranger than fiction. Why lot's of idiots have to go and subscribe to contrived stories or embellishments is beyond me. Like Lois said...we know the conspiracy theories we're talking about here. The faked moon landings, crop circles, The Cardiff Giant, 9/11, Kennedy assassination etc.. Are there real conspiracies? Of course.
Why lot’s of idiots have to go and subscribe to contrived stories or embellishments is beyond me.
As I pointed out, government is it's own worst enemy in this area. Since governments DO lie and mislead their respective citizens/subjects, it's not much of a stretch to accept the possibility that they would be lying of misleading their citizens/subjects on the matters which paranoid conspiracy theorists play to. Private corporations (Always the preferred boogey man to people of the left wing persuasion, and often for the same good reasons!) are not much of an improvement and can even be worse. It's not really idiocy so much as it is cynicism, and it's not cozy to realize that the cynicism is often justified. Make of that what you will, but it is there.
Are there real conspiracies? Of course.
Sure are, but as I noted earlier, the people behind them often as not have a predilection for advertising their intentions.
Why lot’s of idiots have to go and subscribe to contrived stories or embellishments is beyond me.
As I pointed out, government is it's own worst enemy in this area. Since governments DO lie and mislead their respective citizens/subjects, it's not much of a stretch to accept the possibility that they would be lying of misleading their citizens/subjects on the matters which paranoid conspiracy theorists play to. Private corporations (Always the preferred boogey man to people of the left wing persuasion, and often for the same good reasons!) are not much of an improvement and can even be worse. It's not really idiocy so much as it is cynicism, and it's not cozy to realize that the cynicism is often justified. Make of that what you will, but it is there.
Are there real conspiracies? Of course.
Sure are, but as I noted earlier, the people behind them often as not have a predilection for advertising their intentions.
No. This is a tangent. I'm sticking with the threads original point. That interests me. Cynicism plays no part in someone who thinks aliens made crop circles, or the govt was behind 9/11. The thread was about the concept of people who get "awestruck" by natural phenomena-and have to fill in the gaps, or the actual events with contrived, false stories because they had trouble processing reality. There's a psychological mechanic here in and of itself. Cynicism maybe a factor in some theories. But aliens are a factor too. Or the mafia, or the Cubans. Or the jews.. Or a full moon...
Interesting that there are papers explaining how people must be flawed and somehow not right in the head to believe in conspiracy theories. Did it ever occur to one of these researchers that the reason people are so paranoid is because they have every reason to be?! Along the lines of what Equal Op said, governments, and more so powerful governments, are constantly engaged in activities that seem hard to believe but do occur. I'm sounding like a broken record, but read Overthrow and/or Shock Doctrine. The phrase "shit happens" is accurate, or rather would still be accurate if it was "major shit happens". Just think of the Koch brothers and how they bend government to their agenda. So anyone suggesting there are rich folks twisting politicians arms, or bribing them, or whatever to get laws passed, to sway a judge, etc. Is that all conspiracy?
Yes that is conspiracy! But it's not a theory. We can easily prove this. We can show that that conspiracy exists. Conspiracy here being the simple effective definition of "more than one person engaged in planning events for a specific outcome". It usually has nefarious connotations(and is a legal term for illegal activity). In the case of the "rich twisting politicians arms" it is viewed as nefarious...but usually doesn't involve illegal activities. We use the term loosely. Crop circles are a conspiracy theory...but if there is a conspiracy it's not the illegal kind. Another one...The CIA's experiments with LSD on volunteers(and possibly unwitting test subjects). This is a conspiracy( the CIA wouldn't consider it a conspiracy-they would consider it as business.) But it can be proven. It has elements of nefariousness and secrecy. It also probably has many embellishments and fallacies attached to it by "conspiracy theorists". What about the people who claim the jews rule the world? That's a conspiracy theory. Everything that it is founded on is so contrived. It's just a theory. A stupid theory. But if you claim it stems from cynicism is that a cop out for those folks. If I wear a tin-foil hat because I think the govt is monitoring my brain waves by remote control is my cynicism a good excuse? Hell No!