Everyday Science, with James McKay – Conspiracies abound


James McKay. Photo TWH

Conspiracy theories appear to be everywhere. They can be frustrating to argue against because they appear immune to facts and logic.

Instead of arguing directly, it might be better to discuss a thing called cognitive dissonance.

The Oxford dictionary describes this as: ‘the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change’.

Cognitive dissonance is a reason people become upset when their beliefs are challenged. It is an emotionally uncomfortable feeling that occurs when there are two conflicting ideas in your mind at the same time.

When people are presented with new information or ideas which conflict with their own ideas, their reponse is one of two things. They either adopt the new way of thinking, or they reject the new information. People do this because the inconsistent thought patterns of cognitive dissonance are very uncomfortable, and they want to feel comfortable again. We don’t keep conflicting ideas in our mind very long.

Cognitive dissonance is experienced when we believe things that conflict with peer reviewed scientific evidence.

Instead of changing our belief we often reject the evidence, and this keeps our mind in a state of harmony. A common way to achieve this harmony is to construct a conspiracy theory.


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