What is Conspiracy Theory Addiction?
A conspiracy theory can be defined as the belief that a secret, but influential organization or individual is responsible for a circumstance or event. People often think that these beliefs are rare or sometimes absurd, but research shows they may be more common than we thought. A study found that about 50% of Americans believe in at least one conspiracy theory. Conspiracy theories come in all forms, but most theories involve political and social events. Some examples include the belief that certain celebrities are immortal vampires, and controversial topics such as the belief that a small group of people are planning to overthrow the government. Often, one theory will have accompanying and sometimes contradictory conspiracy theories which can be dangerous if not challenged. On the other hand, it can be noted that some conspiracy theories have been proven to be true. With the increased popularity of conspiracies and exposure to information, it is possible to harm your mental health and relationships by developing a conspiracy theory addiction.
Conspiracy theory addiction is a behavioral addiction that can have a hidden impact on the way you perceive events and has been linked to having more negative attitudes. Rather than helping one cope with their negative feelings, the belief in conspiracy theories can create a cycle of distrust and disempowerment. As a person encounters different sources, it is important to be able to analyze the information and distinguish between false theories and real threats.
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People who strongly believe in conspiracy theories and become addicted may experience some of the following:
- Feeling anxious or fearful for no particular reason.
- Feeling a loss of control.
- A need to make sense of complex topics or unrelated events, even with little or no topical knowledge.
- Low self-esteem.
- Strong urge to make connections between a series of unrelated events or behaviors.
- Belief in paranormal explanations for scientific phenomenon.
- A sense of not belonging or isolation.
- A great alienation, disengagement, or disaffection from society
If the presence of the previous feelings and behaviors significantly impact a person’s ability to function in their daily lives, they may have a conspiracy theory addiction.
Why Do People Believe in Conspiracy Theories?
Conspiracy theories occur when people create links between one or more unrelated events, emerging from the need for the human brain to find “patterns”. New research also shows that people with certain personality traits such as low self-esteem are more likely to have a conspiracy theory addiction. Researchers have studied the different reasons why people believe in conspiracy theories and many of the explanations include the following factors:
- A need for understanding and consistency.
- A need for control.
- A need to belong or feel special.
Need for Understanding
When a person experiences distress over uncertainty or witnesses a large-scale event, the mind will start to look for explanations that connect the dots. Those with lower analytical abilities and less tolerance for uncertainty are more likely to believe a conspiracy theory. This is because conspiracy theories can often provide explanations for events that seem confusing or frightening and believers can assume that they are being intentionally deceived. People are also naturally inclined to search for information that confirms their existing beliefs, this is known as a confirmation bias.
The ability to easily share and spread information over the internet has increased belief in certain conspiracy theories. Someone with a conspiracy theory addiction may seek out information to support something they already think is true, rather than seek out new information or challenge their beliefs. A need for understanding and consistency can lead to addictive behaviors such as spending excessive time on the internet and ignoring relationships and responsibilities.
Need for Control
Conspiracy theory addiction can also be caused by the need to feel safe and in control. When the human mind feels threatened, identifying what is causing the danger can be a way to cope with anxiety. One study found that people are more likely to believe in conspiracies if they are feeling anxious. Another study found that people who feel psychologically and/or socio-politically disempowered are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories. People who have a conspiracy theory addiction may be drawn to them as a way of making sense of the world and feeling more in control.
Researchers who have studied why people believe in conspiracy theories have found little evidence that believing in these theories actually help reduce anxiety or satisfy the need to feel in control. People who have a conspiracy theory addiction are less likely to engage in actions that could improve their autonomy and sense of control. The long-term effects of conspiracy theory addiction may leave people feeling more disempowered and anxious than before.
Need to Belong
Conspiracy theory addiction can also form as a defense mechanism, especially in those who feel alienation and disaffection from society. Typically, those with a strong belief in conspiracies have a distrust in authority, lower self-esteem, low levels of interpersonal trust, and feel that they are the “heroes” in the story, while those who are conspiring against them are the “enemy.” As modern society becomes more complex and information is more easily spread, some people feel left behind in trying to keep up. When a person feels disadvantaged, they will often find ways to boost their own self-perceptions.
Conspiracy theory addiction can have long-term negative effects on an individual. Although belief in conspiracies are often motivated by the need to understand, be in control, and feel socially connected, these aren’t the results that are being gained. In fact, some studies have shown that believing in conspiracies can reinforce feelings of confusion, isolation, and loneliness. The cycle of addiction becomes destructive as negative feelings contribute to the belief in conspiracies, and the belief in conspiracies result in negative feelings. Conspiracy theory addiction not only causes a cycle of distrust, but it discourages people from participating in their social worlds. Someone who lacks a sense of control may stop viewing themselves as a valuable contributor to society.
Overcoming Conspiracy Theory Addiction
An issue often faced when trying to disprove conspiracy theories is that people who believe in them also tend to suspect that others are involved in covering up the “truth.” People will often try to argue or ridicule those who believe in conspiracies but this behavior often results in deepening the person’s commitment to their beliefs. Although certain factors that contribute to belief cannot be easily or quickly changed, researchers have found that promoting messages of self-control and empowerment can reduce conspiratorial thinking.
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In one study, researchers found effectiveness in encouraging believers to pursue their goals using the “promotion-focused” approach. Those who are promotion-focused are less likely to believe in conspiracies and more likely to believe they have the power to control their future. Someone who has a conspiracy theory addiction may want to seek help from a counselor who can help them work towards personal goals and increasing a sense of personal empowerment. Creating an action-oriented mindset can help discourage belief in conspiracies and encourage self-responsibility and control.
Conspiracy theory addiction can cause long-term psychological and social harm to an individual. Therapy that centers on personal goals and strategies to achieve these goals can have a powerful impact on improving a sense of control and empowerment. If you’re interested in treatment for conspiracy theory addiction, call a dedicated treatment provider today.