One Surprising Reason People May Believe Bizarre Conspiracy Theories

Know any conspiracy theorists? No doubt they’ve tried to convince you that man didn’t really land on the moon or President Obama was born in Kenya.

In fact, they were imparting genuinely interesting information — about themselves. New research suggests belief in such theories may reveal a Machiavellian mindset.

“At least among some samples and for some conspiracy theories, the perception that ‘they did it’ is fueled by the perception that ‘I would do it,’” University of Kent psychologists Karen Douglas and Robbie Sutton write in the British Journal of Social Psychology.

“These studies suggest that people who have more lax personal morality may endorse conspiracy theories to a greater extent because they are, on average, more willing to participate in the conspiracies themselves.”

The reasons people persist in believing conspiracy theories — even when there is overwhelming evidence debunking them — have long been debated by psychologists. One credible theory contends convincing ourselves of conspiracies allows us to avoid acknowledging the terrifying arbitrariness of life.

“In a strange way, some conspiracy theories offer us accounts of events that allow us to retain a sense of safety and predictability,” British psychologist Patrick Leman noted in New Scientist in 2007. “Instability makes most of us uncomfortable.”

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