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Michael Wood – The Psychology of Conspiracy

Are some people more likely than others to believe in conspiracy theories, and if so, why? Real conspiracies are exposed every day, but where does the line between fantasy and reality disappear?

In a recent study entitled What About Building 7? – A Social Psychological Study Of Online Discussion Of 9/11 Conspiracy Theories, Dr Michael Wood and Dr Karen Douglas of the University of Kent (UK) explore these questions, and more. Their research suggests that people who argue in favour of conspiracy theories do so differently from those who argue against them, and that there are distinct psychological differences between those who support conspiracy theories and those who support the official story. Belief systems also have a profound effect on the acceptance or rejection of conspiracy theories.

In their analysis, conspiracy theories are more about disbelieving the official story than believing in some alternative account. For those who think 9/11 was an inside job, for example, the focus is not on promoting a specific rival theory, but in trying to debunk the official account. Those promoting 9/11 conspiracy theories are also more likely to promote unrelated conspiracy theories, such as those about the deaths of John F. Kennedy and Princess Diana. The study also found that those who favour official accounts are generally more hostile than the pro-conspiracy camp and – perhaps unsurprisingly – that conspiracy theorists do not like being called conspiracy theorists.


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