We have all heard of one type of conspiracy theory or another. Was 9/11 planned by the U.S. government? Did aliens land on earth back in the 50′s and are now being kept at area 51? Is the government trying to control our minds using aeroplane jet streams? But how do the believers in these theories change their behaviour when they start to think that what is being reported is untrue?
A very interesting series of studies recently released in the British Journal of psychology looked at conspiracy believers to find out just that.
Conspiracy theories have been growing in popularity in recent years and a study by Carson (2001) found that conspiracy theories actually become more believable the more time that passes since the event.
Often conspiracy theorists have been discredited as ‘crazy’ and having exceptionally angry and distrustful minds but seeing as they have grown in popularity to a widespread audience this rather simplistic explanation would seem to be inaccurate. There are a host of other reasons that lead people to believe in conspiracy theories such as “anomie (a condition in which society provides little moral guidance to individuals), distrust in authority, political cynicism, powerlessness (Abalakina-Paap et al, 1999; Goertzel, 1994; Swami et al, 2010), and Machiavellianism (Douglas & Sutton, 2011).”
Another interesting finding from studies surrounding conspiracy theories shows that even people who don’t generally believe in these theories can be more open to them after being exposed to them, Douglas and Sutton (2008). This just shows that with the invention of the internet and more exposure to alternative theories that people are going to start believing more even if they think that their beliefs haven’t changed.
When people start to believe in conspiracy theories it can on a grand scale be a good thing. People are encouraged to question the official explanation and this can encourage political and social debate.
For the individual however it generally leads to high levels of mistrust in government and lead to voter apathy. Why bother voting for someone who is corrupt and not going to listen to public opinion?
Also it can add fuel to negative movements such as far right groups who use these theories as evidence of corrupt governments and encourage anti Semitic/racist beliefs.
The more that people are exposed to conspiracy theories the more they are going to start believing in them and the more they are going to withdraw from the political process. Perhaps when it comes to this type of thing ignorance is bliss.
What do you think about conspiracy theories? Are they useful to encourage debate or do they put people off from using their rights to vote? Please let us know in the comments section.