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Why Your NormalFamily BelievesIn Crazy Things
A look at conspiraciesthrough the lenses ofbiology, psychology,
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It's always been in our lives, part ofliving in a civilization, bubbling underthe surface until something creates
pressure and causes it to erupt.Conspiracy-the very word brings tomind crazy people with even crazierideas. And yet our world is full of
conspiracies-and not just the crazyones. The people who pass you on
the street engrossed in theirconversations, the reporter whose
face appears on your television, thejournalist behind the newspaper you
read, and the anonymous entitybehind the blog you read in secret-
they all express their ideas andopinions, and when those opinions
pertain to a powerful event they canfester in the minds of the people who
think of them until a conspiracy isborn and starts to infect those whohear it. But once that conspiracy
leaves the people who created it, andreaches people who don't see the
world in the same way, why do thosepeople allow themselves to be
infected by the crazy ramblings ofothers; why does anybody believe in
Psychologically SpeakingBiologically Speaking Politically Speaking
There are two processes that the brainperforms which lead to the belief in conspiracies,and both are likely evolutionary feature that wereleft over from the hominid days where in a life ordeath situation it was better to err on the side ofcaution. The two processes are:
Patternicity: where the brain seespatterns that dont exist.
Agenticity: where the brain sees agentswho control events when there are no suchagents.
Patternicity and agenticity is also what allowsso many different conspiracies to be born;because each brain will connect information in todifferent patterns, and each brain can focus ondifferent entities that they believe are in control,it is easy for many conspiracies to be born of thesame event. Despite these two traits no longerbeing necessary in the humans of today they stillexist because humans today are descendants ofthe early hominids who lived because their brainsperformed these processes that caused heavycaution in potentially dangerous situations.
The reason that people believe inconspiracies is that the human mind oftenchooses to act in ways that will cause it to feelpleasure. One such way is the default belief inones own correctness. In an effort to be able tokeep this belief, people will often ignoreinformation that contradicts their beliefs while, atthe same time, actively search for information thatsupports their beliefs. Furthermore, once theperson has gained information (both supportingand contradicting the persons established belief)it is the nature of the pleasure seeking mind tofirst retrieve the information that aligns with thepersons belief. In the case of people creatingconspiracies, people have a subconscious needto be in control as well as a driving need to knowwhy things occur; and when people are presentedwith an unusual or horrifying event, the mind triesto create an explanation for what has happened.While the mind scrambles to find reason in aconfusing situation it will start creating patternsthat dont exist and, because the mind has adefault to believe in its own correctness, it is hardfor some people to later change their belief tomatch the actual facts.
Due to a large abundance of Americanentertainment containing elaborate conspiracies, itis particularly appealing to Americans to believethat conspiracies are real. This leaning towardsbelieving in conspiracies is not helped by theknowledge that the United States Governmenthas used conspiracy theories as a political moveagainst its enemies. Also, given reason to distrustthe government, people feel politically isolated,which also causes an increase in the likelihood ofthose people believing in conspiracy theories.
There is also a correlation between the declinein peoples faith in the government and peoplesincreased likelihood to believe in conspiracytheories. American political culture, which includesheavy skepticism and suspicion of large groups(even our own government), causes people to bemore likely to believe in conspiracies of a politicalnature. Our strong belief in democratic principles,and therefore strong disappointment thatdemocratic principles are constantly bent, alsoincreases Americans likelihood of believing inconspiracy theories. Overall, politically relatedconspiracy theories are very prevalent in Americansociety and are not actually all that crazy (someconspiracies have even been proven to be true).
50% of Americans believe in at least one conspiracy theory!