Who Believes in Conspiracy Theories? Traits Believers Have in Common

By Rachel Puryear

We all know someone who tends to believe in conspiracy theories. Some of seem to be mostly reasonable and mild-mannered people, but they believe in a few mildly questionable things. Then, there are others who vocally believe a lot of outrageous conspiracy theories.

Sometimes we love these people anyway and just try to overlook some things they believe in. Other times, these people go so far down their rabbit holes that it gets to be too much to be around them, and the rest of us might have to distance ourselves.

Young man wearing a tin foil hat, while watching television.

Just About Everyone Believes in Something Irrational – But It’s a Matter of Degree:

Human minds work in funny ways – even with people who are generally intelligent and reasonable. It’s important to understand that occasional unproven or outdated beliefs (like belief in UFO’s, or superstitions) is common, and is usually harmless.

It’s much different, however; to believe in numerous, sinister conspiracy theories. Such conspiracy theories are pushed by hate groups and other dangerous sources (like Q-Anon), or result in a great deal of harm to others (like anti-vax beliefs).

People Prone to Believing Lots of Conspiracy Theories Tend to Have the Following Traits:

Note that the following traits are tendencies, and not absolutes. People can have some or all of these traits and not necessarily be prone to belief conspiracy theories, and people can believe in conspiracy theories without necessarily having many of these traits. However, the following traits are more common for people who believe in a lot of conspiracy theories, than they are for the general population:

Lacking in Strong Critical Thinking Skills:

This is unlikely to come as a surprise, and you probably already guessed it. When people suspend belief in reality and try to invent unsupported storylines, they are not thinking critically, according to psychologist Dr. John Grohol. Critical thinking requires analyzing facts, rather than making up facts to support one’s beliefs.

People prone to believing in conspiracy theories also tend to have a little bit lower educational levels than average. This seems to fit in with reduced critical thinking skills, as well as being relatively socially isolated.

A Need to Feel Special:

Many people join causes and groups to feel special. Belief in things that scientists have discredited gives conspiracy theorists a feeling of having knowledge that not everyone else has. They may feel superior, and believe that those who do accept scientific findings are simply “sheeple”.

People prone to conspiracy theories also tend to be more self-absorbed, and paranoid than most others. This tendency seems to fit right in with a need to feel special. Such people are also prone to inferring connections where there are none – which seems to fit with paranoia, and inventing stories.

Relatively Socially Isolated and/or Alienated:

People who are socially isolated, or perhaps also socially alienated, are more prone to believing in conspiracy theories than people who are less so. Being exposed to fewer people, as well as fewer people from different backgrounds and experiences, exposes a person to fewer ideas and less variety in perspectives. This means that a person is less likely to have their beliefs challenged, and to therefore have to examine them more critically.

People who are disagreeable are also more prone to believing in conspiracy theories than others. Perhaps disagreeability is linked with a higher degree of social isolation.

This factor is compounded in this day and age, where many people get much or all of their news from social media. People tend to spend time on social media with others who share their world views, and end up inside echo chambers. With less exposure to different views, while also being surrounded by people with the same views, people tend to dig further and further into their own beliefs – especially when they hold extreme and fanciful beliefs.

If you’ve lost a relationship with someone because of their addiction to conspiracy theories, you are not alone. As conspiracy theories proliferate, the phenomenon is straining many families and relationships. See here for strategies to stay connected with someone you fear you are losing to conspiracy theory groups. It’s a truly difficult situation.

Thank you, dear readers, for reading, following, and sharing. Here’s to science-based evidence, reason, and strength for those struggling with relationships strained by conspiracy theory beliefs.

If there is something you would like to see addressed on this blog, please reach out to me here to ask. If you want to see more content like this and you don’t already subscribe, click here to get Free Range Life and Work Newsletter!


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