Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Conspiracy theorists are more focused on discrediting official accounts than proposing their own

We tend to think of conspiracy theorists as being fixated on far-fetched explanations. In fact they are not so much concerned with providing alternative accounts of historical events, rather they are driven by a mistrust of authority to discredit official narratives. That's according to a new analysis of conspiracist and conventionalist online comments about the 9/11 terror attacks published on US and UK news websites around the time of the tenth anniversary of the atrocity.

Excluding contributions that were pure insults or just links to other sites, Michael Wood and Karen Douglas identified 2,174 relevant comments posted to ABC news, CNN, the Independent and the Daily Mail between July 1 and December 31 2011. The comments were made by 1,156 different authors; 1,459 were coded as conspiracist, written mainly by people who follow the so-called 9/11 Truth Movement, and 715 as conventionalist.

Conventionalist comments more often (56 per cent) contained information that supported their own position as compared with conspiracist comments (31 per cent). By contrast, conspiracist comments were more likely (64 per cent) to contain derogation of opposing explanations, as compared with conventionalist comments (44 per cent). Moreover, conspiracist comments more often signalled mistrust (10.6 per cent vs. 1.4 per cent). On the other hand, conventionalist comments were significantly more hostile in tone. Finally, neither side appeared happy applying the term "conspiracy theory" or derivatives to their own beliefs, suggesting the label has acquired derogatory connotations.

Wood and Douglas acknowledged there are problems with making inferences about people's beliefs based on their online comments. Such comments are typically used to persuade others and are not a simple read out of an author's own beliefs. Nonetheless, the findings confirm prior research into conspiracy theorist beliefs, most of which has been based on questionnaires. The central finding that conspiracists are motivated principally to challenge official accounts, rather than to endorse a particular alternative narrative, is also consistent with a study published last year that showed beliefs in contradictory conspiracy theories correlate with each other.

The researchers said their results also fit with the related idea that many conspiracists share a similar worldview - "a belief system conducive to conspiracy beliefs in general." Characterised by mistrust, this perspective is often focused on finding anomalies in official accounts and assuming they are unexplainable. "For many conspiracists, there are two worlds," said Wood and Douglas, "one real and (mostly) unseen, the other a sinister illusion meant to cover up the truth; and the evidence against the latter is evidence for the former."

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Wood MJ, and Douglas KM (2013). "What about building 7?" A social psychological study of online discussion of 9/11 conspiracy theories. Frontiers in psychology, 4 PMID: 23847577

--Further reading--
The psychology of conspiracy theories blog + Psychologist magazine article by Dan Jolley.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.


Anonymous said...

Analysing comments on ABC news is similar to analysing comments of those on the daily mail or other news sites. These are the general perceptions of the public and the narrative of common thought, not conspiracy.

If the author of this paper goes to subject specific forums (of individual conspiricies) or even an overarching one such as the forums on abovetopsecret.com then you will see a lot of real analysis of the evidence and narratives being developed base upon that.

Anonymous said...

Whats interesting is when the official police account is discredited by those that are suspected as 'conspiracy' such as in the Madeleine Mccann case. Head detective Goncalo Amarel constructs a narrative that is surpressed. He releases all the police files and then the public do construct the narrative such ad that done at http://jillhavern.forumotion.net/

Anonymous said...

This research was obviously funded by the CIA.

Anonymous said...

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. A supposed government involvement in, e.g. a terror attack, by definition includes a suppression of hard evidence of what really happened. What they can't do is provide enough hard evidence for a cover story that didn't happen. Hence, a rational observer can only expect to find evidence to falsify the cover story account, not to construct a complete chain of events of what really happened.

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