Extreme political orientation, paranoid cognitive style, and non-analytical thinking are some of the characteristics associated with believing in conspiracy theories.
Many people have heard about some of the popular conspiracy theories, such as 9/11, J.F. Kennedy’s assassination, or the existence of the so-called Illuminatithat we often consider doubtlessly true. Well, these and many others are categorized as conspiracy theories, and their name itself reflects their unreliable nature. However, not everybody believes in these theories on the same level: while some people consider these as made-up entertainment stories, some are more prone to deeply analyzing and discussing these explanations as truthful, and thus important for human lives. In addition, it is essential to note that conspiracy theories have nothing to do with scientific research and institutional analyses.
Psychologists have decided to explore why some people believe in conspiracy theories and what distinguishes them from those who don’t. “Believers” are more prone to thinking that everything happens for a reason and that some events are meant to occur. This idea associates them with creationists, which was also demonstrated in a study by Dr. Dieguez from the University of Fribourg. It seems that these two ideologies have in common the idea of final cause and reason for everything that happens in the world.
Some sociodemographic characteristics, as well as personality traits, are shown to predispose a person to a belief in the conspiracy theories. A low educational level was often associated with believing in conspiracy theories, but also extremeness in terms of political orientation. Moreover, people who endorse conspiracy theories are less prone to analytical thinking. Also, a paranoid cognitive style was demonstrated among those who accept conspiracy beliefs, as well as state anxiety. In the recent research by Vitriol and Marsh (2018), findings indicated that people who overestimate their knowledge and understanding of the politics will more likely believe that important worldwide events and various outcomes are influenced by some hidden actors or clandestine groups.
Consequences of believing in conspiracy theories
Even though conspiracy theories can sometimes help people when they feel out of control or anxious, believing in these non-scientific explanations can also be dangerous in some way. For example, theories about the negative effects of vaccination can lead parents to decide not to vaccinate their child, which might produce more serious consequences later on, such as the spread of disease. Some less serious consequences can be the reduction of political voting engagement (if a person doubts in government's benevolence) or mistrusting scientific evidence. Therefore, people should be educated about conspiracy theories in order to avoid these potentially detrimental consequences of such belief.