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See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 24, Issue 4

Why People Believe in Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy theories offer easy answers by casting the world as simpler and more predictable than it is. Their popularity may pose a threat to societal well-being

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Did NASA fake the moon landing? Is the government hiding Martians in Area 51? Is global warming a hoax? The answer to these questions is, “No,” yet a committed subculture of conspiracy theorists vigorously argues the opposite.

Many scholars dismiss conspiracy theorists as paranoid and delusional. Psychological data bolster their case: people who harbor conspiracist thoughts are also more inclined to paranoid ideation and schizotypy, a mild form of schizophrenia. As conspiracy theory expert Timothy Melley of Miami University has put it, these beliefs are often dismissed as “the implausible visions of a lunatic fringe.”

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