University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Social and Developmental Psychology (SDP) Seminar Series > Beyond crazy: Rationality, irrationality, and conspiracy theory

Beyond crazy: Rationality, irrationality, and conspiracy theory

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr. Juliet Foster.

Conspiracy theories blame the covert actions of malign forces for phenomena ranging from natural disasters, celebrity deaths, and scientific findings. They are arguably easier to transmit, more ubiquitous, and more influential, than ever before, and are a vector for modern ills including the atrophy of liberal democracy and the rejection of science. Exposure to conspiracy theories influences people without their awareness, meaning that even those who feel immune from their influence may be affected. By and large, scholarly accounts of beliefs in conspiracy theories cast them as irrational, and in this talk I will present data consistent with this view. For example, they are associated with magical and anthropomorphic thinking, reliance on faulty heuristics such as projection (“I would do it, therefore they did it”), and the perception that spurious correlations (e.g., between chocolate consumption and Nobel prizes) are causal. I will also present data consistent with a “conspiracy mentality” hypothesis in which people who believe one conspiracy theory tend to believe others, even when they are mutually incompatible (e.g., Princess Diana was murdered and is still alive). However, I will also present newer results that tend to defy this rather straightforward and derogatory theoretical perspective, and will argue for a more nuanced theoretical and normative characterization. This characterization should be able to cope not only with the normative disadvantages of conspiracy theories, but the reality that interest groups do not only conspire but also deliberately propagate conspiracy theories as part and parcel of their machinations.

This talk is part of the Social and Developmental Psychology (SDP) Seminar Series series.

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