Why people believe in conspiracy theories

Excerpts from an article in the Research Digest of British Psychological Society titled “Why more highly educated people are less into conspiracy theories” dated 5th April, 2017

In this era of “fake news” and rising populism, encountering conspiracy theories is becoming a daily phenomenon. Some people usually shrug them off – they find them too simplistic, biased or far-fetched – but others are taken in. And if a person believes one kind of conspiracy theory, they usually believe others.

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One of the main differences between conspiracy believers and nonbelievers that’s cropped up in multiple studies is that nonbelievers tend to be more highly educated.

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The more highly educated a participant, the less likely they were to endorse the conspiracy theories. Importantly, several of the other measures were linked to education and contributed to the association between education and less belief in conspiracy: feeling less powerlessness (or more in control), feelings of higher social status, and being sceptical of simple solutions.

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… more education usually increases people’s sense of control over their lives (though there are exceptions, for instance among people from marginalized groups), while it is feelings of powerlessness that is one of the things that often attracts people to conspiracy theories.

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“By teaching children analytic thinking skills along with the insight that societal problems often have no simple solutions, by stimulating a sense of control, and by promoting a sense that one is a valued member of society, education is likely to install the mental tools that are needed to approach far-fetched conspiracy theories with a healthy dose of skepticism.”

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