Why are conspiracy theories so seductive?

There are quite a few payoffs for believing in a conspiracy theory. Thanks to the design of our brain.

Consider these human tendencies:

  • We hate to not know: Not knowing is like torture for the brain.  The brain will grab any explanation rather than exist without one. When truth is complex, hard to understand or contrary to what we want, it’s much easier to buy into a simple explanation.
  • We need certainty: Believing in something creates a feeling of knowing and of certainty; this is satisfying. There is also a certain power in feeling in-the-know. It boosts our sense of status; “I’m one of the ones who really gets it”.
  • We love drama: Dramatic stories create dopamine or maybe adrenaline; they are exciting!
  • We are all desperate to belong: Believing in people we respect and like creates a sense of belonging and a powerful feeling of “we’re in this together”.  This feels exhilarating.
  • We love some vengeance: Vengeance against things we believe are unfair creates powerful doses of feel-good brain chemicals. Even imagining doing in our enemy feels great.

So, if we have a story where we are the victims and we are going after revenge, this creates a triple whammy: an exciting drama, a sense of belonging and a possibility for vengeance!  Who needs Netflix?

But what about truth?

It takes a huge amount of brain energy to set aside all those emotional drivers, and then a lot of time to figure out the truth. The brain loves all those chemicals. Truth is boring by comparison. And truth often hurts. Of course, we’re going to ignore it if we don’t like what it might mean for our lifestyle.

What do we do?

There are large-scale, society-level changes that need to happen, like teaching children to think critically and to manage their emotional needs.

But we can also do these for ourselves and make sure that we are not falling for conspiracies – even small ones. Check yourself. Just because something feels right does NOT mean that it is true. Challenge yourself on this.

If you have friends who are caught up in big conspiracies, just know that you are not going to convince them they are wrong by arguing with them. It is better to try and understand them.

Check out the work of Steve Hassan or this article about him. Hassan has written quite a bit about mind control, cults and deprogramming people and is quite enlightening about “Cult45”, QAnon and other current movements.