Magazine article Science News

Tracing the Inner World of Suspicion: Personality, Behavioral Traits Linked to Belief in Conspiracies

Magazine article Science News

Tracing the Inner World of Suspicion: Personality, Behavioral Traits Linked to Belief in Conspiracies

Article excerpt

Shortly after terrorist attacks destroyed the World Trade Center and mangled the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, conspiracy theories blossomed about secret and malevolent government plots behind the tragic events. A report to appear in Applied Cognitive Psychology offers a preliminary psychological profile of people who believe in 9/11 conspiracies.

A team led by psychologist Viren Swami of the University of Westminster in London identified several traits associated with subscribing to 9/11 conspiracy theories, at least among Brits. These characteristics consist of backing one or more conspiracy theories unrelated to 9/11, frequently talking about 9/11 conspiracy beliefs with like-minded friends and others, taking a cynical stance toward politics, mistrusting authority, endorsing democratic practices, feeling generally suspicious toward others and displaying an inquisitive, imaginative outlook.

"Often, the proof offered as evidence for a conspiracy is not specific to one incident or issue, but is used to justify a general pattern of conspiracy ideas," Swami says.

His conclusion echoes a 1994 proposal by sociologist Ted Goertzel of Rutgers Camden in New Jersey. After random phone interviews of 348 people, Goertzel proposed that a person's convictions about secret plots serves as evidence for other conspiracy beliefs.

A belief that the government is covering up its involvement in the 9/11 attacks thus feeds the idea that the government is also hiding evidence of extraterrestrial contacts or that President Kennedy was not killed by a lone gunman. …

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