Patricia Mirabile and Zachary Horne

Features of conspiracy theories and of conspiracists' minds

Conspiracy theories are "alternative" explanations of well-understood events or phenomena. What makes them attractive explanations to so many people? Our proposal is to distinguish two sources of conspiracist belief. On the one hand, as suggested by research in social psychology, individual differences contribute to a tendency to conspiracist ideation, which makes certain people more likely to endorse conspiracy theories. On the other hand, a range of usually reliable cognitive processes, such as the consideration of the explanatory features of a theory, can also make conspiracies appear to be appealing and believable theories, akin to those that one is generally warranted to adopt. In order to test the unique contribution of both of these sources of conspiracist belief, we undertake an investigation of how people attribute explanatory virtues to conspiracy theories in three preregistered behavioral experiments (total N = 1480). Our results suggest that explanatory considerations, which normally guide us to rational inferences, may play a more central role in conspiracist beliefs than was previously thought.

Presented at the Fifth PLM Workshop on Delusion in Language and Mind, in Amsterdam, October 23---24, 2020