November 22, 2013

A SAD, TWISTED SORT OF FOLK:

Conspiracy Theorists Aren't Really Skeptics : The fascinating psychology of people who know the real truth about JFK, UFOs, and 9/11 (William Saletan, 11/19/13, Slate)

[P]eople who suspect conspiracies aren't really skeptics. Like the rest of us, they're selective doubters. They favor a worldview, which they uncritically defend. But their worldview isn't about God, values, freedom, or equality. It's about the omnipotence of elites.

Conspiracy chatter was once dismissed as mental illness. But the prevalence of such belief, documented in surveys, has forced scholars to take it more seriously. Conspiracy theory psychology is becoming an empirical field with a broader mission: to understand why so many people embrace this way of interpreting history. As you'd expect, distrust turns out to be an important factor. But it's not the kind of distrust that cultivates critical thinking.

In 1999 a research team headed by Marina Abalakina-Paap, a psychologist at New Mexico State University, published a study of U.S. college students. The students were asked whether they agreed with statements such as "Underground movements threaten the stability of American society" and "People who see conspiracies behind everything are simply imagining things." The strongest predictor of general belief in conspiracies, the authors found, was "lack of trust."

But the survey instrument that was used in the experiment to measure "trust" was more social than intellectual. It asked the students, in various ways, whether they believed that most human beings treat others generously, fairly, and sincerely. It measured faith in people, not in propositions. "People low in trust of others are likely to believe that others are colluding against them," the authors proposed. This sort of distrust, in other words, favors a certain kind of belief. It makes you more susceptible, not less, to claims of conspiracy.
Posted by at November 22, 2013 6:22 PM
  
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