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Elvis is still alive, aliens crashed in Roswell, the moon landing is fake, climate change isn't real but the Illuminati are—conspiracy theories are a dime a dozen. Some are worth mulling over, but more range from unlikely to downright kooky. What, therefore, makes conspiracy theorists believe in what they believe?
You may have, at some point, wondered how someone can honestly believe things like the real Paul McCartney is dead and was replaced by a lookalike. Some things are too ridiculous to take seriously. So what makes people believe even in the more far-fetched conspiracy theories? A desire to be more unique, psychologists say.
Think of it this way: you're “woke”, as the kids say nowadays, unlike everyone else. People are unthinking sheeple that need to wake up, and, unlike everyone else, you've already woken up. Researchers found that people who believe in conspiracy theories often make references to some hidden or secret source of information that isn't easy to access. The desire to stand out and feel special is at least part of the reason why people believe in the unbelievable.
The Eye of Providence on the US dollar bill is taken by some as evidence for a conspiracy involving the US government and the Illuminati.
“This fascination for what is hidden, emerging from conspiracy narratives, led us to the concept of need for uniqueness,” says researcher Anthony Lantian. When people want to stand out, they actively search for things that will give them what they're looking for. These things can be clothes, material possessions, body modifications, or beliefs. In this case, the possession of knowledge that others don't have is a good way to feel unique.
Two studies have looked into what motivates people to believe in conspiracy theories. The first one, titled “‘I know things they don’t know!’: The role of need for uniqueness in belief in conspiracy theories” had over a thousand participants. According to the findings, people who believed in conspiracy theories also tended to believe that they were privy to secret or scarce information.
The second study, titled “Too special to be duped: Need for uniqueness motivates conspiracy beliefs”, was similar in nature but had a different approach. The researchers found that there was a correlation between a need to be unique and a tendency to become conspiracy theorists. Participants who were inclined toward conspiracy theories were also more likely to believe a conspiracy theory made up for the study. The researchers also found that the fewer people that supposedly know about the conspiracy theory, the more appealing the theory becomes.
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images
It's possible that some people truly believe the conspiracy theories they tout as fact, or as the better alternative to the usual narrative. Even those that just want to be unique may also truly believe in these conspiracy theories. However, one has to wonder how much more important uniqueness is to actually believing in something correct or factual.
Thus, if you have friends who are conspiracy theorists that believe in the Bermuda triangle, or that Jim Morrison is living a quiet life in the jungle away from the fame, they may just want to feel unique.
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