The moon landing was faked, Bush did 9/11, the Earth is flat, we live in a simulation, we keep switching timelines with alternate universes, Obama is a terrorist, airplane trails are controlling our minds and the weather, the Illuminati. Conspiracy theories are consistently being created, believed in, and then proved or disproved. If conspiracy theories are so prevalent, how does that affect the minds of people and the structure of our society? According to studies done by political scientists Eric Oliver and Thomas Wood from 2006 to 2015, at least 50% of Americans believe in at least one conspiracy every year. “People engage in conspiracy theories to deal with difficult emotions,” Oliver explained. “Usually this emotion is the apprehension that is triggered by an inexplicable or unusual event. In struggling to restore our emotional equilibrium, we search for patterns.” During the Watergate scandal, many people thought the claims about President Nixon’s involvement were outlandish, since they had trusted the President for years. After realizing Nelson Mandela didn’t die in the 90s, and actually died in 2013, people felt uneasy with the accuracy of their own memories, and found patterns, now known as the Mandela Effect. Although some conspiracy theories seem extremely unrealistic, like the flat Earth conspiracy and fluoride being used for mind control, which have both been apparently disproved, they can bring people together. There is a Flat Earth Society that was founded in 1956 and reportedly has over 3,500 members. Many social media sites have dedicated spaces to discuss conspiracy theories. TV shows about bigfoot, aliens, and the Illuminati are popular enough to get good enough ratings to go on for multiple seasons. However, it’s been claimed that conspiracy theories have a negative effect on the population. In a study by social psychology professors Karen Douglas and Daniel Jolley, people exposed to anti-government theories were less likely to vote, people exposed to anti-climate change theories were less likely to reduce the amount of pollution they produced, and people exposed to anti-vaccine theories decreased the likelihood that they would get vaccinated. Especially in a time where many people believe the first thing they read on Twitter, conspiracy theories can be dangerous. According to Douglas, conspiracy theories “appear to threaten the social systems that people rely upon and encourage inaction where it cannot be afforded,” since it can undermine people’s confidence in their already-established positions on issues like climate change and politics. Conspiracy theories have become an essential part of modern society, especially with theories being able to be shared instantly through the internet. The effect that this widespread exposure to conspiracy theories, whether dangerous to society’s structure or beneficial and eye-opening, has not yet been determined, but current studies suggest that we might not be able to safely handle it.
Story by Katie Baker