Political Extremists and Conspiracy Theories

What kind of person believes in conspiracy theories? Well, according to a recent study published in Social Psychological & Personality Science, the answer is political extremists. Extreme left or extreme right—the more polarized your opinion, the more likely you are to believe in the government being infiltrated by lizard people.

According to researchers, people on the far right and far left adhere to their belief system in a rigid fashion, leading them to perceive their political ideas as the simple and only solution to societal problems . . . [which] induces them to perceive evil conspiracies as causal explanations for various events.”

Researchers recruited 185 participants online, who then classified themselves on an ideological scale. They then had to agree or disagree with six statements about the recent financial crisis, such as “The financial crisis is the result of a conspiracy between bankers and corrupt politicians.”

As researchers expected, conspiracy-oriented statements were more endorsed by those on the political fringe; moderates were less likely to ascribe to conspiracy theories. In another test, 1,010 participants rated themselves on an ideological scale and indicated their level of agreement with the statement “with the correct policies, most societal problems can be solved very easily.” They were then presented with six conspiracy theories (for example: the US went to war in Iraq to secure more oil) and were asked to rate them on a scale of one to seven (with one being ‘highly probable’ and seven being ‘highly improbable’).

According to the researchers, “Both political extremes believe—more strongly than politically moderate participants—in simple solutions to societal problems. Moreover, belief in simple political solutions was significantly correlated with conspiracy beliefs.”

In other words: a person who thinks that simple solutions can solve the world’s problems sees said problems remaining unsolved, and rather than admit that maybe—just maybe—things aren’t so simple, this person concludes that there must be some kind of conspiracy preventing his imagined simple solution.

Fortunately, we have a solution for moderates out there: start blocking the nuttiest people on your Facebook newsfeed. There’ll be less crazy in your life. Granted, it’s not a great solution, because you’ll still have to deal with the very same aggressively opinionated people in real life—but if we started peddling simple solutions, we’d be part of the problem.



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