Conspiracy Theories: Why We Want to Believe When the Facts Often Aren’t There

FILE – Jacob Anthony Chansley, who also goes by the name Jake Angeli, a Qanon believer speaks to a crowd of President Donald Trump supporters outside of the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office where votes in the general election are being counted, in Phoenix on Nov. 5, 2020. From the Salem witch trials to fears of the Illuminati to the Red Scare to QAnon, conspiracy theories have always served as dark counter programming to the American story taught in history books. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — From fears about vaccines containing microchips to election rigging, conspiracy theories are popping up everywhere.

But belief in conspiracy theories isn’t new and it’s quite common, according to decades of surveys.

Psychologists say conspiracy theories survive because humans have a basic need to explain the world around them.

When something challenges people’s understanding, they sometimes fill in the blanks with their best guesses. Or in times of uncertainty, they seek out voices of those who claim to know what’s going on — and that may provide some comfort.

Consider conspiracies about vaccines containing microchips. Such conspiracies speak to concerns about the pace of technology. They gained a lot of traction at an especially uncertain and frightening time, during COVID-19 lockdowns.

These theories can make believers feel like they have insider information about what’s really going on, even if that’s not backed up by facts.

The internet has made it much easier to find and spread these falsehoods. Many websites and personalities have embraced conspiracy theories to home in on that natural human need to attract audiences.

And with so much information online, it’s hard to know what and whom to trust.

The Associated Press undertook an examination of conspiracy theories, speaking to experts in psychology, to people who believe in such theories today and to people who consider themselves reformed theorists.

Explore the project at APnews.com

Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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