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Fears & Insecurities Behind Conspiracy Theory Thinking

Posted by Jerry De Luca on Thursday, August 26, 2021


Some of the more bizarre, persistent and completely unsubstantiated Covid-19 conspiracy theories include:    

-----“A group funded by Bill Gates patented the COVID-19 virus.”

-----“The COVID-19 virus is a manmade bioweapon.”

-----“5G cell phone technology is linked to the coronavirus outbreak.”

-----“Colloidal silver can cure COVID-19.”

-----“Miracle Mineral Solution can cure COVID-19.”

-----“Garlic can cure COVID-19.”

-----“High doses of vitamin C have been proven to be an effective treatment for COVID-19.”

-----“Lemon and hot water can cure COVID-19.”

-----“Bill Gates plans to use COVID-19 to implement a mandatory vaccine program with microchips to surveil people.”

-----“Getting a flu shot increases your risk of getting COVID-19.”

-----“Wearing a face mask can cause hypercapnia, a condition of too much carbon dioxide”

-----“Wearing a face mask will push the COVID-19 virus into your brain”

-----“The COVID-19 virus was engineered in a laboratory at the University of North Carolina”

Nicholas DiFonzo is Professor of Psychology at Rochester Institute of Technology. He has published over 40 books, magazine articles, book chapters, encyclopedia entries and technical papers on rumors and conspiracy theory thinking. He has also given over 50 academic presentations and seminars on the subject. Below in an excerpt from his chapter in “Conspiracy Theories & The People Who Believe Them”.

“When important events happen without explanation, or the meaning of a situation seems unclear, it is unpleasant. We then interact to fill in the gaps with rumors. In other words, when reliable news is in short supply, groups ‘improvise’ by crafting their own explanations, which are rumors. This sort of circumstance is especially plentiful during times of change, instability, conflict, when information is contradictory, or communication is poor. If confronted with bad events that do not make sense to us, explanations also make us fell less uncertain and more in control. Simply understanding why bad things happen is a way of emotionally coping with those bad things. Similarly, the explanations that conspiracy theories offer for a wide range of distressing, chaotic and unfair events help people cope by fulfilling psychological needs for certainty and a sense of control.

“Rumors also arise in situations that groups interpret as threatening. The urge to protect ourselves immediately is indeed strong, can overpower ordinarily slower and cooler thinking, and can lead us to act hastily on dubious information claims. Better safe than sorry. Threats may be physical, having the potential to harm our health, wealth, or well-being, and rumors then help groups prepare for or avoid danger. But the threats that conspiracy rumors help groups cope with seem to be psychological.

“Psychological threats are when we feel our identity, values, community, party, ideology or anything else we happen to cherish is ridiculed, criticised, derogated, blamed, or otherwise humbled. This too is unpleasant. Groups may then use rumors in psychological self-defence. One of the most common ways that rumors defend us is when the rumors we spread about our group are positive, and those about rival groups are negative. This seems to be what now routinely happens in US Presidential elections. In 2008, for example, rumors about then Senator Barack Obama that he was secretly a Muslim bent on US collapse, and about Governor Sarah Palin that she tried to ban books in a public library and had posed in a bikini while holding an assault rifle, were born and gained momentum in very active conservative and liberal political blogospheres. Where there is conflict, telling stories about our own virtues and the other’s villainy is quite useful in discrediting the other side and distracting us from our own peccadillos.

“And so, in circumstances that are unclear and threatening, conspiracy rumors explain matters and help groups defend themselves psychologically. Consider the conspiracy theory that President Obama was purposely overwhelming the US economy with government spending and weakening the military in order to destroy the United States, this time because he was a socialist. Or that 9/11 and subsequent military campaigns were orchestrated by George W. Bush in order to further his family’s oil interests. Both conspiracy theories enabled ideological partisans to ‘see’ a unifying purpose behind the actions of each president and to neutralize ever-present psychological threats by casting aspersions on him.”


Conspiracy Theories & The People Who Believe Them, edited by Joseph E. Uscinski, Oxford University Press, 2019

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Photo: https://fineartamerica.com/featured/face-to-your-fear-saikat-santra.html

Jerry De Luca is a Christian freelance writer who loves perusing dozens of interesting and informative publications. When he finds any useful info he summarizes it, taking the main points, and creates a (hopefully) helpful blog post.


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