Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Belief in Conspiracy Theories

9/11 was an inside job!

"We'll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing that a plane could take down a skyscraper demolition style." --- tweet today by NFL star running back Reshard Mendenhall.

Mendenhall's tweeting today started off by suggesting that Americans only hear one side of a story, and that it is messed up to celebrate death (in reference to bin Laden's death). But then, he dropped this pretty outrageous nugget doubting the legitimacy of 9/11.

I'm not sure how Mendenhall has this figured out in his head. I mean, did he think the government blew the building up while the planes were striking? Why then would they bother with the planes? They could just as easily blame the explosives on terrorists. And what about the pentagon planes? Were they just decoys? Ah, my head is beginning to hurt.

Mendenhall isn't alone, however, in doubting the media and government account of 9/11. A group calling themselves "9/11 truthers" argues that 9/11 reports are grossly misleading, or even that the government was behind 9/11.

So what is it that makes people believe in conspiracy theories?

According to one series of studies, people were more open to government conspiracy theories when they weren't civicly engaged (e.g., didn't vote, didn't do charity work). Further, when participants were provided with feedback that they were not engaged civicly (relative to others), compared to when they were not given this feedback, they were more likely to then believe conspiracy theories.

Another study found that when people read conspiracy theory materials, they were then more likely to agree with those conspiracies, relative to people who hadn't read those materials.

Together, these studies suggest two things that increase acceptance of conspiracy theories: merely being exposed to arguments for them, and a lack of civic involvement.

Put slightly differently, perhaps Reshard Mendenhall and the 9/11 truthers are making up for a lack of feeling involved in the national discourse by endorsing these bizarre, fringe theories.