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Conspiracy theories…why do people believe in them?

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“The expansion of 5G technology started around the same time as COVID-19! 5G Towers emit strong electromagnetic radiation, which can weaken the immune system and facilitate the spread of the virus!”

This evidence might seem compelling upon reading. However, it is completely false. Just because these two events happened around the same time does not prove that one caused the other. Although, after more than a year, nobody really hears of these COVID related conspiracy theories anymore. This type of information was spread so much during its time on Aruba that even Setar, an Aruban telecommunications provider, had to react to these false claims because they were also installing these 5G towers around the island.

Conspiracy theories have fascinated people worldwide for centuries, including in Aruba. One of the first conspiracy theories I heard on Aruba was the one regarding Betico Croes’ death. From a young child I remember hearing that his death was not an accident but that somebody wanted to kill him. From stories around Betico Croes’ death to COVID-19 being spread by 5G towers, these theories usually spread really fast especially on social media platforms. But what are they, and why do they grip our minds so tightly?

At their core, they are alternative explanations for events that deviate from the mainstream consensus. They often involve secretive plots by powerful people—be it governments, corporations, or secretive organisations—to manipulate events for their own gain. Examples you might have heard of are “The Elite” or “The Illuminati,” and even the CIA. While some conspiracy theories are rooted in kernels of truth, most of them are made up stories that are completely false.

So, what makes conspiracy theories so compelling? Psychologists have found some answers to this question. One factor lies in their ability to provide a sense of order in a seemingly chaotic world. Human beings are wired to seek patterns and meaning in the events around us. Conspiracy theories transform random occurrences into deliberate acts. Take the COVID-19 pandemic example—no clear explanation and a lot of people dying—who is to blame? Why did this happen? In such uncertain times, conspiracy theories can swiftly alleviate doubts by filling in these gaps.

Another reason, closely related to this one, is the fact that people want to feel like they have control over their lives. However, this is not always the case. And this is exactly where a conspiracy theory takes advantage of this psychological need. A recent example of this is the earthquake in Turkey/Syria in 2023. A popular conspiracy theory that surfaced after this aftermath suggested that the government was manipulating the weather system causing this horrible incident. This conspiracy theory provided an explanation for people who felt like they did not have security or control over their lives.

Another reason conspiracy theories are so compelling is that they serve a deeper psychological need, offering a sense of belonging and empowerment to those who embrace them. Believing in a conspiracy theory can make you feel like you are also in on a big secret, like you know something that other people don’t. On top of that, if a person feels like their theories are being attacked they can always protect their own ideas: “We are the good people! They are just ruining it for us!”.

So, conspiracy theories appeal to our needs. They give us a sense of control, security and belonging in times of chaos. In the next parts of this series, we will dive deeper into the question of “Who are the people who believe in conspiracy theories?”. We will zoom in on the individual level to examine the psychological traits and vulnerabilities that make some people more prone to embracing conspiracy theories.”

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