Polls Show that most people believe in at least one conspiracy theory. Given the number of conspiracy theories, perhaps this is not surprising. But studies show that people who believe in one conspiracy theory are more likely to believe in others.
Part two Expert Conspiracy Theory Guide, a series from the Anthill The Conversation podcast, finds out who these people are. We will find out what psychological factors influence whether you believe in conspiracy theories or not. And such things as the time and place in which you live, who your friends are and who have political power, make you more open to certain conspiracy theories.
Jan-Willem van Prooyen, associate professor of psychology at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands, explains his theory that people firmly believe in conspiracy theories. He says that the circumstances of the life of hunter-gatherers meant that our ancestors used to be too suspicious:
We think that there is a developed basis for a person’s tendency to easily distrust other groups, which, I think, lies at the heart of conspiracy thinking.
Times have changed, but people have been stuck with this hangover since the time of hunter-gatherers, whom we sometimes try our best to shake. We are talking with psychologists Karen Douglas and Alexandra Chichotsky of the University of Kent at the UK to find out why some people today are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories than others.
We find out how political beliefs influence whether people believe in conspiracy theories. Joseph Usinsky, a political scientist at the University of Miami in the USA, tells us his theory that people who vote for the losing side of the election are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories than those who won. Usinsky studied all the elections in the United States since 1890:
Over time, we looked at who accused someone of conspiracy. And what we saw was that when the presidency switched between Republicans and Democrats, conspiracy theorists also. So, whoever was in the White House, their side received the bulk of the accusations.
For a slightly different point of view about who believes in conspiracy theories, we will talk with anthropologist Annika Rabo from Stockholm University in Sweden. She worked for many years in the field in Syria and tells us how talking about conspiracies pervades society – this is inevitable. There are all kinds of conspiracy theories, and they concern the United States, Israel, as well as their own government.
Jovan Byford, a social psychologist at Open University, explains why it is important to understand the historical context in which certain conspiracy theories arise and flourish. He points out that the status of conspiracy theories in society affects their popularity. And why should we recognize that not everyone interacts with them the same way:
Some do it in a fun way. Some do not take this especially seriously. Others consider them an explanation that they do not subscribe to, but, nevertheless, one that other people legally believe in, and so on.
The Anthill Podcast is produced by Annabelle Bly and Gemma Weir. Sound design – Eloise Stevens, with original music from Neeta Sarl and audio from Epidemic Sound, Many thanks to City, London University for allowing us to use their studios.