Why Do People Make Conspiracy Theories?



Collin Callaway, Web Editor

Why might someone say that the moon landing was fake or that the Illuminati controls the world or even that Barack Obama isn’t a U.S. citizen? Could it be that they’re scared, or maybe they are doing it for fun? Or maybe, they’re just lying. It turns out that it goes a lot deeper.

Professor Adam Galinsky of Columbia Business School studied the view that people believe in conspiracy theories due to the feeling of lack of control. “The less control people have over their lives, the more likely they are to try and regain control through mental gymnastics,” explained Galinsky. “Feelings of control are so important to people that a lack of control is inherently threatening. While some misperceptions can be bad or lead one astray, they’re extremely common and most likely satisfy a deep and enduring psychological need.” Simply put, people feel like they are losing control of their lives. So rather than take responsibility for their own mistakes, they blame the government or a secret society pitted against them.

Larry Bartels, a Vanderbilt professor of American political science, said, “There is no cost for me to be wrong about my political views. It makes me feel good to think that Woodrow Wilson should have been able to prevent the shark attacks. Then, the psychological pay-off from holding those views is likely to be much greater than any penalty that I might suffer if the views are wrong.” People who make conspiracy theories can’t be proven wrong. If they are presented with facts and evidence against them, they can just suggest the people proving them wrong have a plot to disprove them, creating a conspiracy theory within a conspiracy theory.

Some scientists think that conspiracy theories are just a part of basic human nature. Professor Chris French, a British psychologist, says, “We are very good at recognizing patterns and regularities. But sometimes we overplay that – we think we see meaning and significance when it isn’t really there.” People will see irregularities where there are none and put them together to make a conspiracy theory. This is why conspiracy theories commonly have logic and evidence gaps in them.

Conspiracy theories are a basic part of human nature, and people use them to forward an agenda or to cope with what they don’t know. Conspiracy theorists have no risk making these stories in hopes that it will one day be accepted as fact. A lot of conspiracy theorists may feel like they lack control so they shift their blame to the “big brother government” in order to cope. What’s important is that conspiracy theories are rarely, if ever, based on fact and are usually just made up.