Why Do People Believe Conspiracy Theories? Experts Think They’ve Found The Reason
Today is Avril Lavigne's birthday. Or is it Melissa Vandella's? For those who don't follow Internet conspiracy theories, there's a certain section of Twitter that erroneously believes that Lavigne died in the 2000s and was replaced with a body double she'd hired to fool paparazzi. Melissa — the body double, of course — now lives as Avril and was the one who actually married the guy from Nickelback, according to this hilariously unverified claim. Sure, to you and me this sounds absolutely ridiculous, but there are people who do believe this, and a whole host of other conspiracy theories. But why do people come to believe in conspiracy theories in the first place? According to a new study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, the reason is simple and actually pretty relatable: people just want to feel unique.
The study, titled "Too Special To Be Duped," is a series of three separate surveys conducted by researchers at Johannes Gutenberg University. They asked more than 1,000 people how much they valued distinctiveness. Then, they asked them how they felt about conspiracy theories. It turns out that according to this study, people who believe in conspiracy theories also have a high need for uniqueness, and adopting a wild conspiracy theory may be one way to stand out from your peers.
People Are Attracted To Conspiracy Theories Even If There's Good Reason Not To Believe Them
Researchers found that people who have a desire to feel unique are attracted to conspiracy theories that seem exclusive. During the survey, they invented a completely fake conspiracy theory about smoke detectors in Germany releasing a super-high frequency and endangering people's health. Half of people read an article saying the majority of people agreed with the theory, while the other half read an article saying the majority of people disagreed.
Interestingly, people who had also said that they wanted to feel unique were more likely to agree with the theory if they'd been told the majority of people disagreed. Put simply, having views that only a select few share is super appealing when you're searching for a way to stand out.
Even though researchers eventually told survey participants they'd made the conspiracy theory up and there was zero evidence to support it, one in four people still had concerns about smoke detectors after finishing the survey.
"Once a conspiracy theory is accepted, any argument brought forward against it can easily be reframed as part of the big plan to conceal these activities," the researchers wrote in their findings.
Believing In Conspiracy Theories Is Actually A Rabbit Hole
Believing in your first conspiracy theory is the hardest part. Once you accept your first, it becomes much easier for you to believe others.
Previous research has found it's actually difficult to stick to just one conspiracy theory. Here's why: Most conspiracy theories require you to believe that the world is being fooled by an elaborate, hard-to-pull-off hoax.
Once you co-sign the belief that the government, prominent organizations, or powerful people are able to lie on massive scales and never let word get out, you're able to believe pretty much any theory that's thrown your way.
Some Conspiracy Theories Are Super Out There
The research team behind the study asked one group of participants about 99 conspiracy theories. You've likely heard some of the more popular one mentioned in the study, like former president Barack Obama being born in Kenya (President Trump used to be a big fan of this one), but some of the theories they mentioned are pretty unbelievable.
Did you know there's a theory that Nazis fled to the moon to avoid punishment after World War II and their descendants are just hanging out there? There's also a belief that the World Health Organization and Food and Drug Administration are conspiring with the United Nations to slowly poison us all. Casual.
Even though these theories are super exclusive because so few people believe them, they didn't score very high in this study. Researchers theorized they were too "far out" for the majority of respondents, even those willing to believe fringe theories.
The next time you find yourself nodding in agreement with a Twitter thread claiming something far-fetched, at least you'll have an idea why.