Approaching a Conspiracy Theorist

Approaching a Conspiracy Theorist

Conspiracy theories can be anything from mildly dangerous and ridiculous (have the people who believe Bill Gates is a super-genius capable of a global conspiracy to microchip everyone using vaccines ever tried using Bing?) to the minor and innocent (blue tack is just white tack that has been colored in with a pen).

People who assert, for example, that “a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who operate a global child sex trafficking organization control the political, media, and financial worlds in the United States,” may be simple to ignore. Less easily discounted is the fact that a 2021 survey found that 15% of American respondents agreed with the aforementioned assertion.

Whether you like it or not, you will definitely interact with conspiracy theorists at some time, whether they are family, friends, or coworkers. For this reason, it’s wise to be prepared for what to say when someone claims that the Earth is hollow.

Let’s first examine why they initially held that belief in conspiracies.

Why do people hold conspiracist beliefs?
Our mindless, mindless selves: In a 2019 YouTube video for Inverse, neuroscientist Shannon Odell stated, “The human brain is wired to see patterns to help us survive.”

“Detecting trends can help you avoid death. As the cerebral cortex, particularly the prefrontal cortex and areas involved in image processing, expanded, pattern processing grew more complex.

All of this is quite helpful. For example, it’s advantageous if you can connect the dots between bubbles in a swamp and an alligator attack. However, sometimes this survival strategy goes too far, turning into Uncle Chad boring you with his 9/11 beliefs and spoiling Thanksgiving rather than just keeping us alive.

According to Odell, “as we evolved, the brain became so adept in identifying patterns that it occasionally detects a pattern in seemingly unrelated material.”

This is how conspiracy theories emerge and how peasants in 200 BC noticed a decrease in their turnip crop the year they forgot to sacrifice a virgin to the volcano.

Beyond control: According to studies, persons who feel powerless over their circumstances or way of life are more likely to believe in conspiracies. One 2020 study discovered that those who had seen severe tornado damage reported having less control, which in turn predicted their confidence in conspiracies. Stronger conspiracy views are also predicted with higher levels of sadness and anxiety.

We are awful at determining likelihood: According to an intriguing study from the Zurich Institute of Public Affairs Research, people may believe in conspiracies because they are dreadful at math.

In the experiment, participants were prompted to read made-up news articles about a journalist having a heart attack. He was said to have a 1 percent, 25 percent, 50 percent, 75 percent, or 95 percent probability of having a heart attack, according to various accounts. They were then asked to rank the likelihood that the journalist had been killed or had had a heart attack.

The participants were more likely to think that the journalist had been murdered when the fictitious news item said that a heart attack was unlikely to have occurred. In a second experiment, they were informed that the writer had just written a story about corruption in government. More participants in this scenario thought that he had been murdered.

Participants embrace conspiracy explanations more strongly when the likelihood of an event is low, according to the study’s authors. “We suggest that conspiratorial thinking may serve as a cognitive heuristic: a coping strategy for ambiguity.”

How to approach a believer in conspiracies
Should I make fun of them till they stop talking?

No. Even if it may be difficult to hear that Australia doesn’t exist or that when someone reaches the edge of the planet, they are transferred to the opposite side like Pac-Man on a flat Earth, mocking someone won’t make them change their mind.

In reality, studies have shown that you can influence people’s receptivity to your ideas and facts by making them feel as though you are on their side (for example, by using phrases like “I understand,” “I see your point,” “you’re correct,” etc.).

Should I cite any examples?

Dealing with conspiracy theorists may be extremely irritating since, once they become convinced of their theories, it is nearly impossible to disprove them with facts. If the flag is flying on a windless Moon, you can’t persuade someone who believes the Moon landings were staged by pointing out that Neil Armstrong was attempting to wriggle the pole into the lunar soil and, more importantly, that the Moon is visible below the flag as seen from the real Moon.