Conspiracy theories: just for weirdos?

This article is part of Conspiracy theories

Try to imagine a conspiracy theorist: you might be picturing a strange loner who has lost all grip on reality. But is that image accurate? Are conspiracy theories just for weirdos, or can ‘normal’ people be conspiracy theorists as well?

Are conspiracy theorists paranoid?

The idea that conspiracy theorists have completely lost the plot and are suspicious of everyone and everything is a misconception. Of course this may be the case for some, but it’s the exception rather than the rule. When you realize that over half of Americans believe that the assassination of John F. Kennedy was a conspiracy, it becomes difficult to maintain that every one of those people has mental issues.

Critical citizens

Conspiracy theories don’t generally arise from paranoia, but from a critical stance towards dominant ideas and opinions. In other words: conspiracy theorists are simply doing something society has taught them to do. They critically assess what they are told. But in their case, this critical stance can lead to a distrust of science or of the government, which leads conspiracy theorists to seek alternative explanations.

“The stereotypical conspiracy thinker – who suffers from delusions and wears an aluminum hat – is still a rarity. But the doubter, the critical citizen who approaches reality with a large dose of scepticism and who is open to alternative theories, that type is growing in numbers.”
Prof. Stef Aupers
KU Leuven

Looking at causes

In fact, we can learn a lot from conspiracy theorists. Conspiracy theories always arise for a reason. It can be useful to investigate those more closely. Where do these theories come from? Have companies or politicians not been sufficiently transparent? Do we need more checks and balances for powerful entities to avoid more conspiracy theories? The problem isn’t the conspiracy theorists themselves, but the underlying causes of their thinking.

Why do we believe conspiracy theories?

Getting sucked into a conspiracy theory: it can happen to anyone. Discover what makes conspiracy theories so attractive.

Want to learn more?

Published on 18 October 2023