Tuesday, 7 June 2016
This post is by Karen Douglas (pictured above), Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Kent. Karen studies the psychology of conspiracy theories and the consequences of conspiracist thought. Here she asks, is it irrational to believe in conspiracy theories?
Conspiracy theories explain the ultimate causes of events as secret plots by powerful, malicious groups. For example, popular conspiracy theories suppose that the 9/11 attacks were planned by the US government to justify the war on terror, and that climate change is a hoax coordinated by climate scientists to gain research funding. Some conspiracy theories seem outlandish to most people. For example, very few people would agree that world leaders such as Barack Obama and David Cameron are reptilian humanoids in disguise. However, many other conspiracy theories give people pause for thought. Indeed, one recent investigation showed that around 50% of Americans believe at least one conspiracy theory (Oliver and Wood 2014). Nevertheless, conspiracy theories have a bad reputation. Many view them as irrational beliefs held only by paranoid, disenfranchised members of society.
But if conspiracy theories are so popular, can belief in them really be irrational? Recent research on the psychology of conspiracy theories has attempted to answer this question.