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Conspiracy-minded psychology

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Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories'

Conspiracy theories have been a source of fascination for centuries. Whenever anything big or even not-so-big happens, there are people who seek alternative explanations. These are the people who refuse to accept conventional wisdom, the people who believe that there is always more to the story than what we are told.

So what is it about conspiracy theories that makes them so attractive?

That's the central question in Rob Brotherton's 'Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories' (Bloomsbury, $27). The book aims to explore some of the reasons why people are so willing to dig deep and dig in to build connections where connections might not otherwise be.

The appeal of conspiracy theories is unmistakable who wouldn't want to feel like they are better informed than those around them? At the core of human nature is a desire for logical explanations for how things happen and why. Our inclination is to want things to make sense across the board.

However, reality is rarely that neat and tidy; there are always going to be pieces that don't quite fit together in the way that our brains feel that they should. Brotherton goes in-depth to explain some of the psychological gymnastics our minds are willing to do in order to construct the reality we believe to be so; some will go so far as to latch onto the tiniest of outliers as a rationale to utterly abandon the narrative as generally accepted. In short, we focus on the evidence that 'proves' our ideas and dismiss the rest as 'proof' that the conspiracy is working as intended.

Thus are the seeds of conspiracy theory planted.

This isn't about internet nutcases wearing tinfoil hats and yammering about the extradimensional reptilian creatures that rule the world (though the folks spreading those ideas hello, David Icke! are fascinating in their own right). The truth is that we're all drawn to conspiracy theories in some way; it's just how our brains work.

With 'Suspicious Minds,' Brotherton delves into the history of conspiracy theories and discusses how that history impacts us. There's no denying that these theories often have unforeseen consequences, but that doesn't prevent people from being drawn to them. Whether we're talking about the Illuminati or the Freemasons or the JFK assassination or 9/11 or any number of other grand 'deceptions,' these theories tap into our psyches in meaningful ways, mining our foibles and fears and painting pictures that fit with our own basic biases and assumptions.

It's tempting to dismiss conspiracy theories and their proponents as crazy, but the reality is that we're all at least a little paranoid. Maybe you don't believe with the fervor of the converted, but odds are that you've heard a theory or two in your time that gave you pause. Sure, you don't REALLY think that there's a massive conspiracy at work, but perhaps there's a stray detail that makes you wonder if there might be more to the story. If that describes you, then congratulations you're a conspiracy theorist.

'Suspicious Minds' is a fascinating and readable dive into the deep end of conspiracy psychology. Bear in mind Brotherton isn't trying to prove any of these theories (or disprove them, for that matter). This book is about what leads your brain to make these sorts of theoretical connections and why they might become so very important.

And always remember just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you.


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