Shelf Help: 'Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories'

Conspiracy thinking represents a heightening of cognitive tendencies shared by almost everyone.
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Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories. (Photo: Bloomsbury Publishing)

Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories. (Photo: Bloomsbury Publishing)

Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories
Rob Brotherton
Bloomsbury Publishing

In the popular imagination, the term conspiracy theorist evokes tinfoil hats, wacky newsletters, and sweaty-palmed characters on modernity’s fringes. But that’s a flimsy stereotype: Over half of United States citizens believe in one conspiracy or another, with little difference across the education or income spectrums. A whopping four percent think the world is secretly ruled by lizard overlords. Rob Brotherton, an academic psychologist, gives a greatest-hits tour of conspiracy theories past and present, all the while seeking to explain their appeal. Rather than some unhinged mode of being, he argues, conspiracy thinking represents a heightening of cognitive tendencies shared by almost everyone. Studies have shown that merely being reminded of the chaos and fragility of life makes people temporarily more charitable to conspiracy theories, with their promise of tidy answers just hidden from sight. We crave order and clarity, and conspiracy theories offer quick hits of them on demand.

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