Have you ever found yourself falling down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories? Why are some people so obsessed with it? How do these theories affect us mentally? For those unfamiliar with the term conspiracy theories; it is a belief that some covert but influential organization is responsible for an unexplained event. Some of the most famous conspiracy theories are - Area 51, 9/11 Attack, Illuminati and the JFK Assassination. Conspiracy theories are not a new phenomenon, but they seem to have risen to the forefront of consciousness in recent years. In a world where you might feel powerless and alienated, it can be appealing to believe that there are forces plotting against you and your interests. Once these beliefs take root, cognitive biases and mental shortcuts reinforce and strengthen them. Many of the same factors that fuel other types of problematic thinking, such as a belief in the paranormal, also contribute to conspiracy theories. Researchers suggest that there are a number of different reasons why people believe in conspiracy theories. Many of these explanations boil down to three key driving factors: a need for understanding and consistency (epistemic); a need for control (existential) and a need to belong or feel special (social).
Epistemic explanations refer to the desire to derive certainty and understanding. The world can often seem confusing, dangerous, and chaotic. At the same time, people want to understand what's happening and are driven to explain things that happen. Doing so helps them build up a consistent, stable, and clear understanding of how the world works. When people encounter disparate information, it is only natural to look for explanations that connect the dots. Conspiracy theories offer explanations that provide this connection. Having lower analytical abilities and less tolerance for uncertainty also play a role. As a result, people turn to conspiracy theories to provide explanations for events that seem confusing or frightening. The confirmation bias can also play a role in the development of conspiracy belief. People are naturally inclined to seek out information that confirms their existing beliefs. So when they run across a theory that supports something that they already think is true, they are more likely to believe the information is also true.
There is also evidence that people turn to conspiracy theories as a way of feeling safer and more in control. When people feel threatened in some way, detecting sources of danger can be a way of coping with anxiety. So while people may be drawn to conspiracy theories as a way of making sense of the world and feeling more in control of their own destiny, however, the long-term effects may actually leave people feeling more dis-empowered than ever before.
People can also be motivated to believe in conspiracy due to social reasons. Some researchers have hypothesized that by believing in conspiracies that portray out-groups as the opposition, people are able to feel better about themselves and their own social group.
Those who believe in the conspiracy feel that they are the “heroes” of the story, while those who are conspiring against them are “the enemy.”
Even though at times believing in such theories might provide temporary satisfaction or comfort, in the long term, it has various risks. Believing in things that are not true poses a number of dangers, which can have real effects that impact individual behavior and ultimately have a ripple impact on society as a whole. A resurgence in measles outbreaks in the U.S. has been largely attributed to a refusal by some individuals to vaccinate; a refusal that stems largely from the conspiratorial belief that vaccines cause autism and other health ailments. Sometimes it can also impact the cognitive functioning of the individual and lead to obsessive behavior that harms not only their mental health as well as physical health which can develop into serious conditions or violent behavior.