We all know a conspiracy theorist. Someone who believes that information is being withheld by government or some mysterious group that controls the government. From the Illuminati to the alien in Area 51 the the Assassination of JFK, to the attacks on the Twin Towers, there are always people willing to believe that information is being hidden.
A pair of researchers in Psychology at the University of Kent in England looked at some of the believers and found out that the belief in conspiracy theories is tied to a person’s willingness to participate in a conspiracy.
We advance a new account of why people endorse conspiracy theories, arguing that individuals use the social-cognitive tool of projection when making social judgements about others. In two studies, we found that individuals were more likely to endorse conspiracy theories if they thought they would be willing, personally, to participate in the alleged conspiracies. Study 1 established an association between conspiracy beliefs and personal willingness to conspire, which fully mediated a relationship between Machiavellianism and conspiracy beliefs. In Study 2, participants primed with their own morality were less inclined than controls to endorse conspiracy theories – a finding fully mediated by personal willingness to conspire. These results suggest that some people think ‘they conspired’ because they think ‘I would conspire’.
My own thoughts on conspiracies have been shaped by Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack. “Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”