Conspiracy theory content
A belief that some covert but influential organisation is responsible for an unexplained event
How popular are conspiracy theories
We recommend an article from our own De Facto publications feed with recent data on the support for conspiracy theories and beliefs. One of the surveys on which the article reports finds shows that 72% of Italians believe in at least one conspiracy theory, compared to 80% of the Portuguese, 72% of the Polish, 76% of the French, 64% of the Americans, 52% of the Swedish, 65% of the Germans, 85% of the Hungarians, and 60% of the British.
In the run-up to the US' 2016 presidential elections, a made-up story spread on social media claimed a paedophile ring involving high-profile members of the Democratic Party was operating out of the basement of a pizza restaurant in Washington, DC. In early December, a man walked into the restaurant - which does not have a basement - and fired an assault rifle. Remarkably, no one was hurt.
Infowars, one of the websites which actively propagated false Pizzagate-content, reportedly apologised in March 2017. The Infowars website, a far-right media known for publishing conspiracy theories, false news and propaganda (website intentionally not linked) still contains the original articles.
Pizzagate is an example of both partisan/ideological content and conspiracy theory content.
The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories
There is one study from 2017 by researchers at the University of Kent's School of Psychology which explores the psychology of conspiracy theories and what psychological factors drive the popularity of conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories explain important events as secret plots
by powerful and malevolent groups.
Belief in conspiracy theories appears to be driven by motives that can be characterized as epistemic (understanding one’s environment), existential (being safe and in control of one’s environment), and social (maintaining a positive image of the self and the social group).
However, little research has investigated the consequences of conspiracy belief, and to date, this research does not indicate that conspiracy belief fulfills people’s motivations. Instead, for many people, conspiracy belief may be more appealing than satisfying. Further research is needed to determine for whom, and under what conditions, conspiracy theories may satisfy key psychological motives.
Another study from 2018 looks into conspiracy theories as evolved functions and psychological mechanisms.It proposes, among other things, that "people possess a functionally integrated mental system to detect conspiracies that in all likelihood has been shaped in an ancestral human environment in which hostile coalitions—that is, conspiracies that truly existed—were a frequent cause of misery, death, and reproductive loss".