Revealed: Why so many people believe in conspiracy theories

Rob Waugh

In America, 65 million people believe that a UFO crashed at Roswell – and another 21 million people believe that the moon landings were faked.

Conspiracy theories became big news last year as ‘fake news’ sites spread misinformation during the election – including conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton.

So what is it that attracts people to insane theories like the idea that the Royal Family are shape-shifting reptiles?

It could be a sense that they are unique – and not part of the herd, according to researchers at Grenoble Alps University.

Irving Newton, Met. Officer at Roswell USAFB, New Mexico, holds debris of supposed Flying Saucer found by rancher Mac Brazel, stated by USAF to be a weather balloon. Source: AAP
Irving Newton, Met. Officer at Roswell USAFB, New Mexico, holds debris of supposed Flying Saucer found by rancher Mac Brazel, stated by USAF to be a weather balloon. Source: AAP

The researchers found that people who agreed with the statement, ‘You’re unique’ more than the statement, ‘We’re all the same,’ were more likely to believe in conspiracy theories.



The researchers conducted three linked experiments to investigate the belief – and found that people who believe in conspiracy theories tend to think they are ‘special’ and that they possess unique information.

1969 file photo, Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, right, trudges across the surface of the moon leaving behind footprints. Source: AP
1969 file photo, Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, right, trudges across the surface of the moon leaving behind footprints. Source: AP

The researchers write, ‘we investigated whether belief in conspiracy theories satisfies people’s need for uniqueness.

‘We found that the tendency to believe in conspiracy theories was associated with the feeling of possessing scarce information about the situations explained by the conspiracy theories and higher need for uniqueness

‘These studies suggest that conspiracy theories may serve people’s desire to be unique, highlighting a motivational underpinning of conspiracy belief.’