The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories
University of Westminster, United Kingdom
Christopher C. French,
Goldsmiths, University of London, United Kingdom
Despite an unparalleled proliferation of information (or perhaps because of it), many people continue to believe in myths or false narratives that exaggerate, idealize, or misconstrue reality. Indeed, recent surveys have suggested that many people in different parts of the world subscribe to ‘conspiracy theories’, while denying ‘official’ or mainstream accounts of many important phenomena. This is increasingly recognized as an important concern for civic society because of the potential of conspiracy theories to sow discord, violence, and public mistrust, while diverting attention from political issues of real significance and undermining democratic discourse.
In an increasingly globalised world, and against the background of turmoil caused by financial crises, war, and international terrorism, the need to understand the nature and roots of conspiracy theories has become increasingly urgent. Yet, contemporary scholarly research on conspiracy theories remains piecemeal. Influenced by Richard Hoftstadter's discussion of the ‘paranoid style’ in American politics, many commentators continue to view conspiracy theories as the products of individual or collective psychopathology. However, it is unlikely that such a view can provide a comprehensive understanding of conspiracy theories, particularly in view of the fact that such theories are so widespread globally.
The goal of this special issue is to bring together original research on the psychology of conspiracy theories, with a view to providing a comprehensive understanding of the place and role of conspiracy theories in modern societies. Our aim with this volume is invite original research that seeks to understand the ways in which conspiracy theories emerge and are transmitted from cultural, social, and idiographic perspectives. In addition, we seek to facilitate discussions of the ways in which scholars and policy-makers can begin to formulate interventions that counter the deleterious effects of conspiracy theories on civic society. We are convinced that such a volume is both timely and will be of interest to a wide range of scholars, as well as the wider community.