You don't have to be crazy to believe in conspiracy theories. In fact, 63 percent of registered voters in American believe in at least one political conspiracy theory. Scientists say that the belief that powerful people are manipulating things behind the scenes is the brain's way of making sense out of forces that the individual cannot control, sparked by the region of the brain called the amygdala.
Economic recessions, terrorist attacks and natural disasters are massive, looming threats, but we have little power over when they occur or how or what happens afterward. In these moments of powerlessness and uncertainty, a part of the brain called the amygdala kicks into action. Paul Whalen, a scientist at Dartmouth College who studies the amygdala, says it doesn’t exactly do anything on its own. Instead, the amygdala jump-starts the rest of the brain into analytical overdrive — prompting repeated reassessments of information in an attempt to create a coherent and understandable narrative, to understand what just happened, what threats still exist and what should be done now. This may be a useful way to understand how, writ large, the brain’s capacity for generating new narratives after shocking events can contribute to so much paranoia in this country.
“If you know the truth and others don’t, that’s one way you can reassert feelings of having agency,” Swami says. It can be comforting to do your own research even if that research is flawed. It feels good to be the wise old goat in a flock of sheep.
Read more about the research into conspiracy theories in an article by Maggie Koerth-Beker in the New York Times. Link
(image credit: Matt Dorfman)