A Conspiracy ranges from Kennedy’s assassination to Princess Diana’s accident, through the alleged death of Paul McCartney and his replacement by a double or the belief that an elderly Elvis would actually be alive somewhere.
The idea or thought that we do not know all the facts or truth about what is happening in the world is quite widespread.
At least it is striking a wide range of areas and themes around which it has proliferated: political intrigues, secret societies, wars promoted by hidden powers, apocalyptic prophecies, contacts with extraterrestrials, genetic experiments with humans, use of technology for control of the mind, creation of pathogens in laboratories … and even according to a theory, the transition to digital television has been but a ruse to surreptitiously introduce in each house cameras and microphones, conveniently installed in our new televisions and decoders by some hidden power.
The so-called “conspiracy theories” attempt to explain the causes of events that are socially disturbing by alluding to actors who – secretly and in a coordinated way – work to achieve hidden, illegal, malevolent, or ethically unacceptable goals.
But why do some of these beliefs come true?
Someone might think that these are delusional symptoms, only shared by people who have some mental illness with components of paranoia; but the truth is that – far from being an individual phenomenon – “conspiracy theories” are a “mass phenomenon”, and you just have to take a look at the Internet to be convinced of it.
In fact, some authors have referred to them with the more technical term “paranoid social cognition”.
In a recent study in the European Journal of Social Psychology, Van Prooijen has analyzed some of the factors that might be associated with belief in conspiracy theories.
Specifically the authors identify two variables, the existence of a context of uncertainty and doubts about the morality of agents allegedly involved.
According to the researchers, conspiracy theories are a way of “making sense” or explain events that are stressful to the ordinary citizen, because they are uncontrollable, random, confusing, or difficult to understand with the categories of thinking that usually we use.
They are out of the ordinary (eg, attacks, illnesses, social or natural catastrophes, etc.) and they have a certain feeling of being vulnerable to the unknown, because their causes and the way they are confronted are uncertain.
But, as Van Prooijen and Mr. Jostmann predict, the existence of a context of uncertainty alone is not sufficient to activate the belief in a conspiracy theory.
In fact, at times, before some stressful social events, what is observed is precisely a tendency to rely even more on the authorities and established powers and agglutinate around them (leaders, rulers, etc.), perhaps as a way of recovering a sense of protection.
However, if uncertainty is added to the morality of those who might be involved in the events, then the thing changes.
And this seems to be so even if the agents are doubted for other reasons not directly related to the fact in question. Under such conditions, the belief in hidden interests and Machiavellian plans supported by secret groups would begin to be taken as a possible explanation of the disturbing event.