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Why do people believe in conspiracy theories?

2020 was a milestone year for conspiracy theories. The COVID-19 pandemic provided too much material to conspiracy theorists. The virus was created in a laboratory, the virus was caused by the development of the 5G mobile network, the virus was spread by Bill Gates, so he could use a vaccination program to implant microchips in people who would allow him to monitor and monitor them. He controls - these were just some of the conspiracy theories released in 2020. Also another theory sparked by President Donald Trump is that the presidential election was rigged - a "myth" that sparked the Capitol invasion a few days ago.

conspiracy theories

These are not some beliefs that are limited to a small group of people. Nearly 4 in 10 Americans believe the death rate from published COVID-19 is "deliberately excessive", while 27% believe that COVID-19 vaccines may be used to implant a monitoring chip. One in three Republicans say they believe his theory QAnon is "mostly true". 36% of registered voters believe that voter fraud has occurred to affect the election result.

Conspiracy theories arise in the context of fear, anxiety, mistrust, uncertainty and a sense of helplessness. Many Americans have been experiencing these feelings in recent years due to job insecurity and wage stagnation. For some, the technological leaps and social progress can be destabilizing. Then in 2020 brought a pandemic, a deep economic recession, widespread protests in the country and a highly contested election process. Any of these, alone, is enough to cause anxiety, distrust and uncertainty. The Americans face all these events at once.

Of course, not all of this creates uncertainty for everyone, and not everyone turns to conspiracy theories. Who do it? It is not a matter of "ignorance" or "stupidity". People with low levels of education are more likely than the most educated to believe in conspiracy theories, but such theories are also common among highly educated people.

It is also not just a matter of politics. Several studies have found that conservatives are more vulnerable than liberals to conspiracy theories. But belief in conspiracy theories is certainly not limited to those on the right. "Politically motivated conspiracy theories find a receptive audience in both Democrats and RepublicansSaid Daniel A. Cox, director of the Survey Center at American Life. People on the political extremes of both the "left" and the "right" seem more likely to support conspiratorial beliefs than others. Of course, conspiracy theories are not just believed by Americans. Recent examples of widespread conspiracy theories have been reported in Canada, Μεγάλη Βρετανία, Austria, Italy, Malaysia, Brazil, Νιγηρία and many other countries.

What are the characteristics of people who believe in conspiracy theories? These individuals usually exhibit high levels of stress, a high need for environmental control, and a high need for subjective certainty. They tend to have negative attitudes towards power, to feel alienated from it political system and see the modern world as incomprehensible. Conspiracy theorists believe that others are conspiring against them.

They struggle with anger, resentment and other hostile emotions, as well as fear. They have lower self-esteem and need the acceptance of others to maintain their self-esteem. They may also have a strong desire to feel unique and special, and to have an exaggeration need be in a specific group. Belief in conspiracy theories also often goes hand in hand with belief in paranormal phenomena. It is also related to religiosity, especially to people for whom religion is particularly important. Of course, all of the above does not mean that those who experience these feelings or have these characteristics believe in conspiracy theories.

Conspiracy theories arise not only when they "match" specific combinations of personality traits but also when they satisfy psychological and ideological needs. The resilience of many conspiracy theories to events suggests that these beliefs are not merely alternative interpretations of events, but are rooted in the conscious or the unconscious. desires, in what cognitive psychologists call "motivational logic".

There are several motivations that drive these desires. It can be an attempt to "protect or enhance a person's self-esteem". Anxiety, fear and disbelief can cause shame, resentment, jealousy, anger or guilt. A person can deny his feelings and project them to others. Conspiracy theory can then be used to explain these feelings. Even outside of conspiracy theories, the brains are prone to do what social psychologists call a "fundamental performance error": We tend to explain our negative emotions and ενέργειες as a result of some situations or events beyond our control, rather than as reflections of our internal characteristics and weaknesses.

It is easier to say that we are anxious about the malicious actions of others than it is to deal with our fears and anxieties. Thus, our unknown fear of getting sick from COVID-19 could turn into a fear that others are exaggerating about the malicious pandemic. aims.

A conspiracy can also be created and perpetuated by a powerful person. In recent years, this has been done by Donald Trump, who created what British novelist and journalist James Meek called "an autonomous alternative political space of thought." Belief in Trump has become a social identity for many people. At the same time, Trump has exploited and continues to exploit growing distrust of institutions. Trust in the main media has been decreased. The fossil fuel industry has published fears about climate change. The conspiracy theory Big Pharma states that major pharmaceutical companies hide unfavorable information about the safety and effectiveness of drugs. Tobacco companies continue to deny the harmful effects of smoking. And Trump himself states that the media publish "fake news». Education and information should become the weapons against conspiracy theories.

Some conspiracy theories do not pose a particular problem. The popular belief that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone in the assassination of John F. Kennedy is relatively innocuous. But some conspiracy theories lead to beliefs that have negative social consequences. In 2019, the FBI stated that belief in the QAnon theory is a potential domestic terrorist threat. In the current COVID-19 crisis, conspiracy theorists are more likely to refuse to wear masks or maintain social distance. And last Wednesday, thousands of Trump supporters, loyal to the president's conspiracy theory that the election was rigged, stormed the Capitol and threatened American democracy itself.

These theories are especially dangerous, especially if they are believed and promoted by people who have real power, who set the example and make political decisions. As columnist Paul Krugman wrote, "Contrary to the conspiracy theories of the left - which exist but are only marginally supported - the conspiracy theories of the right are supported by important people: powerful politicians, television personalities with large audiences."

* SecNews republishes the news from slate.com and does not endorse any subjective views of columnist John Ehrenreich.

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