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Your brain loves conspiracy theories. Here's why.
Scientists figure out why so many people believe in conspiracy theories.
Let's face it — you love a good conspiracy theory. At least, statistically there is a good chance you do. About half of Americans believe in at least one conspiracy theory in any given year. How could that be? What is it about the regular, everyday reality we don't like?
A recent study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology says that the answer to this predilection towards conspiracy-fueled thinking may lie in how our brains deal with probabilities. What may be responsible is a general cognitive bias associated with low probabilities. People tend to believe more in conspiratorial explanations of events as the probability of them actually occurring gets lower.
A conspiracy theory offers an alternative explanation for events and how things seem to be in the world around you. No, says a conspiracy theory, just because most people think this is the real state of things (especially politically), that's not how matters really stand.
The reason people may engage in such thinking, says the study from Switzerland that was carried out by Marko Kovic and Tobias Füchslin, is essentially an error in how we process probabilities. The scientists write:
A number of cognitive biases are, in essence, errors in probabilistic thinking and conspiratorial reasoning might represent just another such bias.
In 5 experiments involving 2,254 participants, the researchers found that people tend to have less faith in common, popularly-accepted explanations if an event, especially a high-impact event, becomes less likely to happen. For example, in one study the subjects were discovered to believe more a hypothetical journalist was murdered if the official explanation of him having a supposed heart attack was lower in probability.
Engaging in conspiracy theory thinking allows us to make some sense of uncertainty, often spinning a tale that has little basis in facts. A large number of people is still convinced that we don't know who really killed JFK or that Obama is a Muslim and some secret group is controlling the world. Why are these ideas believed? Largely, because they allow people to explain why the world around them is not what they want, ruled by forces beyond their control.
"It's not 'us' (reasonable people) vs. 'them' (irrational conspiracy nuts)," explained Kovic, "conspiratorial reasoning is a coping mechanism that we all use."
If my life is not working out or the people around me on the street don't do what I want or don't look how I'd like them, it's easier to imagine that there is a group or entity out there making that happen. Something totally beyond my control.
To combat this type of reasoning, confronting people with facts might not work either, say the researchers. We need to figure out a way to address the way our brains devise them.
"If conspiratorial thinking is indeed a heuristic that we are all prone to, then we should rethink how we go about 'debunking' conspiracy theories," said Kovic. “As has been shown in existing research, merely confronting people with facts does not necessarily work. 'Debunking' conspiracy theories might be more effective if we adapt to conspiracy believers' — and thus also to our own — cognitive style."
They call this potentially more effective anti-conspiracy training a “metacognitive debiasing" in probabilistic thinking.
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Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.