The Characteristics of the Conspiracist
Why conspiracy theorists’ need to feel unique.
Posted November 2, 2017
A recent study shows that belief in conspiracy theories is tied to a need to be unique.
The study also corroborates other research in highlighting that belief in one conspiracy correlates with belief in others; this is even the case when the conspiracies directly contradict one another. If you know someone who believes in a conspiracy theory of some sort, chances are they will believe in others.
The new findings are important as they highlight a core social aspect of believing in conspiracy theories—the need to feel special. The study found that belief in fictional conspiracies (created for the purposes of the study) was enhanced when it was framed as a minority opinion. That is, being unique by way of being part of a minority—believing in a fictional conspiracy theory—is appealing.
Believing in conspiracies are all about rejecting official accounts of events, not actually putting forward alternatives.
Crucially, the new study found that when debriefed, a quarter of participants continued to believe in the fictional conspiracy, when told it was developed merely for the purposes of the study.
Another recent study finds that a theory is thought to be more likely to be true when people take some ownership of it—when it is not ascribed to others.
Research into the traits of the conspiracy theorist is very young. But if you're the cautious type, then, for now, you might want to be wary of someone who identifies as a conspiracy theorist.
Why it matters
Belief in conspiracies is linked with a loss of control, and for many, the state of the world is a recipe for powerlessness. The Internet has boosted conspiracy theories, allowing like-minded people to connect more easily.
People need to develop a greater understanding of how they make sense of the world, sharpening their critical thinking skills. In doing so, they can be better informed of what's real and what's not, making better decisions as a result.