At least 50% of Americans subscribe to at least one conspiracy theory, according to new research by Eric Oliver and Thomas Wood at the University of Chicago.
Previous research indicated that 63% of registered voters buy into at least one political conspiracy theory.
Shankar Vedantam of NPR reports, citing the research, that 19% of Americans believe the U.S. government was behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks, 25% believe the 2007 financial crisis was caused by the small cabal of Wall Street bankers, and 11% of people believe the government “is mandating a switch to compact florescent light bulbs because the light bulbs make people obedient and easy to control.”
The findings are based on four nationally representative surveys that were sampled between 2006 and 2011.
Vedantam explained that a conspiracy theory is “is where you believe in a theory where no matter how much disconfirming evidence comes in, you somehow convert that disconfirming evidence into part of the conspiracy. So with Barack Obama’s birth certificate, for example, the moment the birth certificate came out from Hawaii, the people who believe that Barack Obama was not born in the United States would say the Hawaiian hospital now is in on the conspiracy as well.”
Interestingly, the scientists found the conspiratorial thinking among more than 150 million Americans is NOT “a product of greater authoritarianism, ignorance, or political conservatism.”
Rather, the study concluded that “the likelihood of supporting conspiracy theories is strongly predicted by a willingness to believe in other unseen, intentional forces and an attraction to Manichean [good vs. evil] narratives.”
Previous studies, summarized by the New York Times, have found that “believers are more likely to be cynical about the world in general and politics in particular. Conspiracy theories also seem to be more compelling to those with low self-worth, especially with regard to their sense of agency in the world at large. Conspiracy theories appear to be a way of reacting to uncertainty and powerlessness.”
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