voices in the family

Conspiracy theory mentality

We all love a good story, and some of the most fascinating ones are conspiracy theories – often full of intrigue and difficult to debunk. You know them: elaborate murder plots, clandestine government plans, and schemes behind big political, cultural, and historic events.

Polls show 20 to 60 percent of Americans believe there is some truth to conspiracy theories. Some see them simply as engaging, if not ridiculous, explanations that help us make sense out of distressing events and circumstances.

Dan Gottlieb and his guests Derek Arnold and Michael J. Wood discuss conspiracy theory mentality. Who is likely to hatch a conspiracy theory, and why are these stories so prevalent and alluring?

Derek Arnold is a Communication faculty expert with an expertise in conspiracy theories at Villanova University.

Michael Wood is a post-graduate researcher in the School of Psychology at the University of Kent. He looks at how conspiracy theories differ psychologically from conventional explanations for events.

AP Photo

Share this story:

Share a comment:

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow WHYY's terms of service; WHYY reserves the right to remove any inappropriate comments. See also WHYY's privacy policy.

  • Gern

    We now live in a nation where doctors destroy health, lawyers destroy justice, universities destroy knowledge, governments destroy freedom, the press destroys information, religion destroys morals, and our banks destroy the economy.
    Chris Hedges

  • Gern

    Here is another conspiracey theory:

    Obama DOJ Let Off HSBC Officials Who Launder Money


  • Gern

    Why dont you do a show refuting these conspiracey theories?


  • Larry
  • Mark

    The funniest part is this implies that the government and corporations never lie, never do evil things, but we all see them lying and cheating daily. Those that try to marginalize people that question and seek the truth are just part of the devil’s clan whether knowingly or not. Conventional explanations are never lies Michael Wood? Everything we are told is fact? If someone questions a lie they are mentally unstable? We don’t buy your spouting of B.S. Please, Mr. Wood explain how 1700 professional Architects & Engineers can also find the offical 9/11 story completely implausible? You can’t because you can only attach the people that question thruth you can never answer the questions raised with facts since you know even you are lying too. Go back to propaganda school buddy.

  • H5mind

    Several months ago, the US reauthorized NDAA for fiscal 2013. Among its many questionable provisions is the approval, for the first time ever, to allow our CIA to create and distribute pro-government propaganda directed at the American people, right here at home. That means the same lies, spin, and disinformation campaigns our spy agencies have used for decades overseas, may now be brought to bear on you, me, and Uncle Billy. For the cheap seats, this means if you were leery of the msm before, you REALLY should be now. And not just the stories, but the related commentary sections, blogs, etc. As Sun Tsu said, if you can’t verify it, don’t trust it. Let the trolls and useful idiots question your sanity, just don’t neglect to question their ‘facts’.

  • http://www.real-debt-elimination.com aaheart

    Did they mention OFFICIAL Conspiracy Theories? LIke 19 Arabs who have never flown huge commercial airliners or navigated them across hundreds of miles conspired to hijack and fly four such jets on the same day and fly them through restricted airspace over multiple military installations without triggering so much as a fly-by from the USAF, fly through restricted air space over NYC and Washington DC and crash them into buildings bringing the buildings down at near free fall collapse …and then get out of bed the next morning and see their names and images in the news and complain to the US Consulate that someone had stolen their identity–the nerve, the chutzpah….forget the chutzpah….the nerve, the bravado, the infamy!!!

  • Al

    There is nothing more despicable, than for those whose opinions differ from the “official” storyline to be considered mentally unstable. This is what one would expect of the former Soviet Union, not the United States of America. Rather than ad hominem attacks, how about refuting on a case by case basis in the realm of facts, not on the supposition that only the “official” sources of information are telling you the truth. I remember when NPR was a bastion of truth, rather than another den of vipers.

  • http://stripey7.blogspot.com Eric Hamell

    Thanks for the balanced treatment, and especially the acknowledgment that our own (as well as other) governments have been responsible for actual conspiracies as well as harmful conspiracy theories like McCarthyism. Also valuable was the point your guest made that such theories can actually make people feel more powerless and vulnerable, and thus cut across their ability to organize against real evils. An example from the “other side,” ideologically speaking, is the disastrous “anti-DP [deep penetration agent] campaign” in the Philippine New People’s Army, an internal political witch-hunt that went wildly out of control and decimated their ranks through a chain reaction of accusations and executions.

You may also be interested in: