People Believe in Conspiracies Because They Want to Be in One

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Here's what new research tells us about conspiracy theorists: they fall for outlandish schemes because they'd like to participate in one themselves.

Miller-McCune reports on a British Journal of Social Psychology study that linked the conspiratorially-minded with a propensity toward Machiavellianism, the tendency to use deceit for personal gain. The study's authors explained their findings, via the research magazine, this way:

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.

In one revealing example, the study found that "highly Machiavellian individuals were seemingly more likely to believe that government agents staged the 9/11 attacks because they were more likely to perceive that they would do so themselves, if [they found themselves] in the government’s position."

Interesting. But let's take this this "it takes one to know one" conspiracy logic to the extreme. Does this mean that the conspiracy-minded believe CIA covered up the JFK assassination because they'd do the same if they were the CIA? Or that the moon-landing was faked because, if they were the head of NASA, they'd think up a similar plan?

And how about birtherism? Are those ranters saying Obama lied about his birth certificate secretly implying they would do the exact same thing if they were President? As Miller-McCune noted, that would be news to Donald Trump.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.