Feeling powerless in the world at large? You're more likely to believe in conspiracy theories, experts say, even if those theories diminish the power you actually have. "If you know the truth and others don’t, that’s one way you can reassert feelings of having agency," says a psychology professor. But die-hard theorists—whether they debunk climate change or consider vaccines harmful—are less likely to take valuable action, like limiting their carbon footprint or giving their kids vaccines. Other conspiracy-theory quirks, as per the New York Times Magazine:
- Real conspiracies, like Watergate and Iran-contra, make it possible for nutty theories to exist—and both tend to share a concern for democratic principles. Those who say Sandy Hook was staged by actors, for example, will say they're trying to protect the Second Amendment.
- Attempts to disprove false political information can make people believe the false data even more. Scientists can't explain it, but call it the "backfire effect."
- The Internet only makes it worse. An alternate narrative is always online somewhere, and the Web's tribalism fuels bizarre beliefs.
- But conspiracy theories are nothing new. Richard Hofstadter's 1965 book, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, looked at suspicions about various groups—including communists, Catholics, and Freemasons.
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. (Or see what a 9/11 truther did to a painting in the Louvre