Do you think the moon landings were faked? Is climate change a hoax? Is the government hiding information about contact with aliens? Try one of Ben Ambridge‘s Psy-Q tests to see if you’re a conspiracy theorist – and what that might say about your personality.
Please rate each of the following claims as
(a) very unlikely, (b) unlikely, (c) likely or (d) very likely:
There’s no point in me giving you the right answers. The very raison d’être of a conspiracy theory is to claim that the agreed-upon ‘right’ answers are actually wrong.
What is interesting is what happened when this survey was given to 1,377 visitors to climate-change blogs.* The findings revealed that conspiracy theorists don’t pick and choose their conspiracies: if you believe one conspiracy, you believe them all.
For some things this makes sense. For example, if you believe the US government is inherently power-crazed, untrustworthy and violent, regardless of whoever happens to be in power at the time, then it makes sense to see Pearl Harbor, 9/11 and the assassination of MLK simply as different manifestations of this same underlying dastardliness.
But for other conspiracies, this makes no sense at all. Why should someone who believes that New Coke was a deliberately inferior product also think that climate change is a hoax, that there is no link between smoking and lung cancer and that the British royal family killed Princess Diana? Although, there were – as always – some individual exceptions, overall, this is exactly what happened. Most people either believed in absolutely every conspiracy mentioned in the questionnaire or none at all.
This makes conspiracy theorists look rather silly. If you ask a conspiracy theorist why he (it is almost always a he) does not believe the official version of, for example, 9/11, he will say that he is a free-thinker who has taken a dispassionate and scientific look at all the available evidence and come to an independent conclusion. Indeed, he will probably genuinely believe this to be the case.
But isn’t it a bit of a coincidence that he has come to an exactly parallel conclusion about lots of completely unrelated phenomena, such as the moon landings and climate change? The findings of this study suggest that – actually – he has just bought an off-the-shelf all-purpose conspiracy theory that he applies to every debate in town.
In other words – and here comes the psychology bit – the findings suggest that ‘conspiracy thinking’ is less a rational response to an individual phenomenon than a personality trait or pattern of thinking. Conspiracy theorists seem to have a particular susceptibility to confirmation bias, gleefully seizing on any evidence that supports their largely predetermined conspiracy view, while failing to look for evidence that might undermine their view or support the official account.
I’m not a conspiracy theorist. But if I were, I’d be tempted to suggest that the ‘survey’ referred to above never happened, and that the journal article was planted by the US government in order to smear as ‘conspiracy theorists’ the brave free-thinkers who had uncovered some major conspiracies.
But I’m not a conspiracy theorist. So I won’t.
* The study’s authors characterised these blogs as broadly ‘pro-science, but with a diverse audience’. A number of climate-change sceptic blogs were approached but declined to take part.
Taken from Psy-Q by Ben Ambridge