The appeal of conspiracy theories

Psychological forces like motivated reasoning have long been associated with conspiracy thinking, but scientists are learning more every year, states today’s, continuing:  “For instance, a British study published last year found that people who believe one conspiracy theory are prone to believe many, even ones that are completely contradictory.images “We’ve written before about the historical and social aspects of conspiracy theories, but wanted to learn more about the psychology of people who believe, for instance, that the Boston Marathon bombing was a government “false flag” operation. Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, a cognitive scientist at the University of Western Australia, published a paper late last month in the journal Psychological Science that has received widespread praise for looking at the thinking behind conspiracy theories about science and climate change. We asked him to explain the psychology of conspiracy theories. This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

“There are number of factors, but probably one of the most important ones in this instance is that, paradoxically, it gives people a sense of control. People hate randomness, they dread the sort of random occurrences that can destroy their lives, so as a mechanism against that dread, it turns out that it’s much easier to believe in a conspiracy. Then you have someone to blame, it’s not just randomness. Continue reading “The appeal of conspiracy theories”

Most are resolved to live with terrorism fears

Public opinion surveys conducted since the bombings last week at the Boston Marathon indicate that most Americans — while convinced future attacks are quite likely — don’t feel personally threatened by terrorism, and an increasing share of the public is skeptical about sacrificing personal freedoms for security, reports FiveThirtyEight.comimages

“Concern about another terrorist episode in the United States has increased after the events in Boston, which led to the deaths of four people and wounded more than 260. But there has not been the upsurge in concern over such an attack that there was in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, in New York City. The post-Boston polls have also shown that Americans’ personal sense of threat — as opposed to the generalized threat that the country faces — remains low.

“Just after the 9/11 attacks, a Washington Post poll found that the threat of another major terror attack was something that worried nearly 9 in 10 Americans either “a great deal” or “somewhat.”

“In the most recent Washington Post survey, roughly 7 in 10 respondents were worried either a great deal or somewhat. That figure increased just slightly from the last time the newspaper asked this question, in September 2008. Continue reading “Most are resolved to live with terrorism fears”