West Mall, Conspiracy Theories, Confirmation Bias

Discussion in 'West Mall' started by mcbrett, May 21, 2013.

  1. mcbrett

    mcbrett 2,500+ Posts

    Conspiracy Theories- Study

    No place exemplifies the subjects of the above study better than here- West Mall on Horn Fans. I have observed, read posts, and engaged posters here off and on since 2003- some of the same people come here with the same beliefs and same comments no matter what the topic. Here's a prediction- a scandal will break in the next few months, and someone here will allege a cover up or involvement by an entity that had no involvement.

    This study says why these people do it. A part of it is healthy, a part isn't- and as people here demonstrate, we often seek out information to support beliefs we want to have, beliefs that make us feel stronger or important, or better about ourselves. Anyone of us, in seconds, can find a blog that shares our diverse views- its just that some of us, not all, take those blogs or shady news sources as fact, when they clearly are not.

    Below is the article-
    Why Rational People Buy Into Conspiracy Theories
    In the days following the bombings at the Boston Marathon, speculation online regarding the identity and motive of the unknown perpetrator or perpetrators was rampant. And once the Tsarnaev brothers were identified and the manhunt came to a close, the speculation didn’t cease. It took a new form. A sampling: Maybe the brothers Tsarnaev were just patsies, fall guys set up to take the heat for a mysterious Saudi with high-level connections; or maybe they were innocent, but instead of the Saudis, the actual bomber had acted on behalf of a rogue branch of our own government; or what if the Tsarnaevs were behind the attacks, but were secretly working for a larger organization?

    Crazy as these theories are, those propagating them are not — they’re quite normal, in fact. But recent scientific research tells us this much: if you think one of the theories above is plausible, you probably feel the same way about the others, even though they contradict one another. And it’s very likely that this isn’t the only news story that makes you feel as if shadowy forces are behind major world events.

    “The best predictor of belief in a conspiracy theory is belief in other conspiracy theories,” says Viren Swami, a psychology professor who studies conspiracy belief at the University of Westminster in England. Psychologists say that’s because a conspiracy theory isn’t so much a response to a single event as it is an expression of an overarching worldview.

    As Richard Hofstadter wrote in his seminal 1965 book, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” conspiracy theories, especially those involving meddlesome foreigners, are a favorite pastime in this nation. Americans have always had the sneaking suspicion that somebody was out to get us — be it Freemasons, Catholics or communists. But in recent years, it seems as if every tragedy comes with a round of yarn-spinning, as the Web fills with stories about “false flag” attacks and “crisis actors” — not mere theorizing but arguments for the existence of a completely alternate version of reality.

    Since Hofstadter’s book was published, our access to information has vastly improved, which you would think would have helped minimize such wild speculation. But according to recent scientific research on the matter, it most likely only serves to make theories more convincing to the public. What’s even more surprising is that this sort of theorizing isn’t limited to those on the margins. Perfectly sane minds possess an incredible capacity for developing narratives, and even some of the wildest conspiracy theories can be grounded in rational thinking, which makes them that much more pernicious. Consider this: 63 percent of registered American voters believe in at least one political conspiracy theory, according to a recent poll conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University.

    While psychologists can’t know exactly what goes on inside our heads, they have, through surveys and laboratory studies, come up with a set of traits that correlate well with conspiracy belief. In 2010, Swami and a co-author summarized this research in The Psychologist, a scientific journal. They found, perhaps surprisingly, that believers are more likely to be cynical about the world in general and politics in particular. Conspiracy theories also seem to be more compelling to those with low self-worth, especially with regard to their sense of agency in the world at large. Conspiracy theories appear to be a way of reacting to uncertainty and powerlessness.

    Economic recessions, terrorist attacks and natural disasters are massive, looming threats, but we have little power over when they occur or how or what happens afterward. In these moments of powerlessness and uncertainty, a part of the brain called the amygdala kicks into action. Paul Whalen, a scientist at Dartmouth College who studies the amygdala, says it doesn’t exactly do anything on its own. Instead, the amygdala jump-starts the rest of the brain into analytical overdrive — prompting repeated reassessments of information in an attempt to create a coherent and understandable narrative, to understand what just happened, what threats still exist and what should be done now. This may be a useful way to understand how, writ large, the brain’s capacity for generating new narratives after shocking events can contribute to so much paranoia in this country.

    “If you know the truth and others don’t, that’s one way you can reassert feelings of having agency,” Swami says. It can be comforting to do your own research even if that research is flawed. It feels good to be the wise old goat in a flock of sheep.

    Surprisingly, Swami’s work has also turned up a correlation between conspiracy theorizing and strong support of democratic principles. But this isn’t quite so strange if you consider the context. Kathryn Olmsted, a historian at the University of California, Davis, says that conspiracy theories wouldn’t exist in a world in which real conspiracies don’t exist. And those conspiracies — Watergate or the Iran-contra Affair — often involve manipulating and circumventing the democratic process. Even people who believe that the Sandy Hook shooting was actually a drama staged by actors couch their arguments in concern for the preservation of the Second Amendment.

    Our access to high-quality information has not, unfortunately, ushered in an age in which disagreements of this sort can easily be solved with a quick Google search. In fact, the Internet has made things worse. Confirmation bias — the tendency to pay more attention to evidence that supports what you already believe — is a well-documented and common human failing. People have been writing about it for centuries. In recent years, though, researchers have found that confirmation bias is not easy to overcome. You can’t just drown it in facts.

    In 2006, the political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler identified a phenomenon called the “backfire effect.” They showed that efforts to debunk inaccurate political information can leave people more convinced that false information is true than they would have been otherwise. Nyhan isn’t sure why this happens, but it appears to be more prevalent when the bad information helps bolster a favored worldview or ideology.

    In that way, Swami says, the Internet and other media have helped perpetuate paranoia. Not only does more exposure to these alternative narratives help engender belief in conspiracies, he says, but the Internet’s tendency toward tribalism helps reinforce misguided beliefs.

    And that’s a problem. Because while believing George W. Bush helped plan the Sept. 11 attacks might make you feel in control, it doesn’t actually make you so. Earlier this year, Karen Douglas, a University of Kent psychologist, along with a student, published research in which they exposed people to conspiracy theories about climate change and the death of Princess Diana. Those who got information supporting the theories but not information debunking them were more likely to withdraw from participation in politics and were less likely to take action to reduce their carbon footprints.

    Alex Jones, a syndicated radio host, can build fame as a conspiracy peddler; politicians can hint at conspiracies for votes and leverage; but if conspiracy theories are a tool the average person uses to reclaim his sense of agency and access to democracy, it’s an ineffective tool. It can even have dangerous health implications. For example, research has shown that African-Americans who believe AIDS is a weapon loosed on them by the government (remembering the abuses of the Tuskegee experiment) are less likely to practice protected sex. And if you believe that governments or corporations are hiding evidence that vaccines harm children, you’re less likely to have your children vaccinated. The result: pockets of measles and whooping-cough infections and a few deaths in places with low child-vaccination rates.

    Psychologists aren’t sure whether powerlessness causes conspiracy theories or vice versa. Either way, the current scientific thinking suggests these beliefs are nothing more than an extreme form of cynicism, a turning away from politics and traditional media — which only perpetuates the problem.
  2. Crockett

    Crockett 5,000+ Posts

    I'd tell you what's really going on but the Bielderbergers, Freemasons and Iluminati would come get me...
  3. Larry T. Spider

    Larry T. Spider 1,000+ Posts

    I would bet that people that believe in conspiracy theories don't put much belief in research studies like the one you linked.
  4. mcbrett

    mcbrett 2,500+ Posts

    Exactly Larry. Information that upsets the confirmation bias leads many to attack the source.

    If someone told me UT sucks- I think- who the hell is this moron? I don't spend 5 seconds thinking- why did they say that and do they have a point? We all are guilty of this- it's just a matter of how much and to what degree.
  5. CanaTigers

    CanaTigers 2,500+ Posts

  6. Roger35

    Roger35 2,500+ Posts

  7. Uninformed

    Uninformed 5,000+ Posts

    BS report written by Obama's minions.
  8. Crockett

    Crockett 5,000+ Posts

    Thanks for clearing that up uninformed [​IMG]
  9. pasotex

    pasotex 2,500+ Posts

  10. zork

    zork 2,500+ Posts

    Are the stories of the IRS targeting certain groups or people with certain affiliations a conspiracy?
  11. 2003TexasGrad

    2003TexasGrad 10,000,000+ Posts

    A conspiracy is two or more individuals acting together toward a common goal. Everything is a conspiracy, literally. It really really is. People need to come up with a new way to describe plots that they think are impossible or not likely.

    Fast and Furious IS a conspiracy by definition. The IRS scandal IS a conspiracy by definition. If there was more than one person involved in JFK it IS a conspiracy. 911 WAS a conspiracy, even if it only involved the highjackers and no one else.

    We know the FBI promotes and helps would be terrorists all the time to engage in plots only to stop them before they actually pull the trigger, or at least pull the trigger on the fake bomb the FBI gave them. This is admitted. That is also a conspiracy.

    Lets come up with a new word.
  12. HornHuskerDad

    HornHuskerDad 5,000+ Posts

  13. OUBubba

    OUBubba Reluctant and Bullied Sponsor

    Correct me if I'm wrong, as I wasn't living at the time, but, I am under the impression that JFK had some conservative tendencies (other than the broads - boom!). If I remember accurately, he applied supply side economics as it was supposed to be done. Reagan and Bush both cut one side of the equation but didn't cut the other side as you were supposed to do.
  14. Mr. Deez

    Mr. Deez 10,000+ Posts

  15. Uninformed

    Uninformed 5,000+ Posts

  16. Mr. Deez

    Mr. Deez 10,000+ Posts

    Those comments are only controversial, because the term "fascism" has come to basically mean, "anything that's bad. To be fair to JFK, you have to put those entries into context. The Hitler of 1937 was no choir boy, and he had done some pretty terrible stuff domestically, but most of it wasn't commonly known in the United States. Furthermore, the things that made him go down in history as the epitome of evil hadn't taken place yet. Nazi Germany hadn't even annexed Austria yet, much less invaded anybody. Furthermore, though Jews got a raw deal from the Nazis from Day 1, the real brutality (the murder of Jews on a genocidal scale) didn't start happening until the occupation of Poland.

    If you're an American liberal looking at 1937 Nazi Germany, you're going to see a country with a generous welfare system, a standardized and very comprehensive public education system, a national health insurance plan (a "public option"), a tightly-managed command economy, and a massive, ever-expanding, and well-operated public infrastructure. Furthermore, you'd see a nation that had dramatically weakened the authority of its state and local governments and consolidated power in its national government. What wouldn't a liberal like about that?

    As for a few of the specific quotes:

  17. Uninformed

    Uninformed 5,000+ Posts


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