The Hill

Conspiracy Theories Mostly Believed By People On Far Left, Right Of Political Spectrum

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A new study finds people who believe in conspiracies are more likely to have political ideologies that are either far-right or far-left. Photo courtesy of 1000 Words / Shutterstock.com

A column republished on the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity website stirred up quite a bit of controversy last week due to claims the terrorist attack on satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo was a “false flag operation,” aka a U.S.-led government conspiracy on par with the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. In short, the article’s author Paul Craig Roberts, who is also a 9/11 truther, said our government planned the attack in order to reign in France’s independent foreign policy, which included a UN vote to recognize Palestine as a state. If you’re the type of person who believes this, there’s a good chance your political beliefs fall on the more extreme side of the left-right spectrum.

Those were the findings of a recent study published in the journal Social Psychological & Personality Science. Researchers from the Netherlands’ VU University found that those who fall on the far right or far left of political ideology are more likely to “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,” the team wrote, according to Pacific Standard.

People with these strong political mindsets also have strong tunnel vision, which makes it hard for them to make sense of worldwide events when they don’t align with their point of views. To wrap their heads around it, they craft or subscribe to elaborate conspiracies — no matter how far-fetched the conspiracy may seem, it makes a complex situation simple. These behaviors are then reinforced with conspiracy theorists’ tendencies to avoid news and other sources that refute their beliefs.

The researchers, led by psychologist Jan-Willem van Prooijen, came to their conclusions after conducting four studies. In one of them, they asked 185 adults living in the U.S. to complete an online survey in which they were asked to rate their political affiliation on a seven-point scale — from far-left to far-right — and then agree or disagree with six statements about conspiratorial beliefs related to the Great Recession. For example, one statement said, “The financial crisis is a result of a conspiracy between bankers and corrupt politicians.” Those who fell on either side of the spectrum were more likely to agree with these than those who were politically moderate.

In another study, the researchers asked 1,010 Dutch participants to rate themselves on an 11-point left-right scale, and then whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “With the correct policies, most societal problems can be solved very easily.” After they got those answers, they asked participants to rate how probable six conspiracy theories were, including, “The political arena was infiltrated by oil companies when making the decision to go to war against Iraq.” They found people on both sides of the spectrum, as well as those who agreed with the policies statement, were more likely to believe in the conspiracies.

Unfortunately, the world is far more complex than conspiracy theorists would like to believe, and it’s always in a state of constant change — a dynamic that doesn’t cater to their way of thinking.

To put this in a medical perspective, people who tend to believe conspiracies are three times more likely to be anti-vaxxers, a 2013 study found. Whether it’s because they believe pharmaceutical companies are just trying to make money or that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other scientists are lying about a vaccine-autism link, anything that refutes their stance will be ignored. The truth is that while we only had a few vaccines a few years ago, science has given us more — and made them safer — so that we don’t have to get sick from the real thing. It’s not a ruse to give people autism.

Conspiracy theorists, it seems, will always be stuck in a bubble. It’s easy to be there. But it will take meeting in the middle of the political spectrum, and having a balanced conversation, to solve our world’s problems, from getting kids vaccinated to world peace.

Source: van Prroijen JW, Krouwel A, Pollet T. Political Extremism Predicts Belief in Conspiracy Theories. Social Psychology & Personality Science. 2015.  

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