Do you ever wonder why some people jump onto weird, crackpot theories that make absolutely no sense?
Conspiracy theories like the Earth is flat, or “fake news” reports that Hillary Clinton secretly ran a child slave ring, are some good examples.
Any rational person would see these ideas and go “obviously this is complete nonsense and totally fake.”
And yet, somehow, people cling to these obviously false ideas. Sometimes the “believers” are family, friends, or acquaintances of yours, people you know to be somewhat smart and yet buy into these completely ridiculous pieces of fake news.
Well, new research recently published in the European Journal of Social Psychology has suggests that the reason people believe in conspiracy theories or fake news articles may have nothing to do with intelligence.
It’s all about feeling unique.
Studying the mechanisms involved in the motivation behind belief in conspiracies, researchers assessed 238 people on their “need for uniqueness” and their endorsement of completely irrational beliefs.
Several different studies were performed, from a simple assessment to essay writing to a mock news event designed to look like a conspiracy.
Across the board there was a rather strong correlation between participants believing in crackpot theories and the importance they placed on being unique. Basically, the people who believed in the fake news stuff demonstrated a need to seperate themselves from the overall crowd.
Participants even believed the fake-news event (8 politicians dying in a bus crash) more strongly once they knew that most people didn’t think it was a conspiracy. Being the minority opinion strengthened their views.
Even scarier, a full quarter of participants still believed the story even after they were told it was completely fake.
According to a researcher from the study “the current findings add to this emerging image by pointing to a highly functional aspect of endorsing largely unpopular conspiracy beliefs… [the need] to be an identifiably unique individual.”
Everyone wants to feel like they’re special, and for some, conspiracy theories and fake news are the easiest route. Some people use these wild ideas to differentiate themselves from the pack, and everyone telling them that they’re “wrong” or “crazy” only reaffirms their uniqueness and motivations.
It’d be a lot better for society if these types of people just took on a hobby or something to make them feel unique, but you gotta feel special somehow.