There are a number psychological reasons why people easily succumb to conspiracy theories. Before exploring those reasons it’s necessary to define a conspiracy theory.
Conspiracy theories are suppositions that have not been proven. They tend to be mixes of truths, half-truths, lies, and innuendo. They feed on paranoia and they often are focused on authoritarian powers. They’re seldom or never proven. People continue to believe in them when they are not disproven.
What makes a person susceptible to conspiracy theories? An inability to accept reality. They believe a conspiracy theory because they can’t accept the truth regarding whatever the conspiracy theory is focused on.
As humans we are incredibly intelligent creatures. That doesn’t mean that we are perfect in our thinking. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t susceptible to misunderstanding reality. Throughout the ages, our species has banded together in groups. We have developed philosophies about survival, the nature of creation, and the nature of society. We have developed laws and rules in hopes of creating order (and hopefully compassion).
One interesting possibility is that in any group in which there is an absence of knowledge, the desire to understand gives way to fear. We must understand our environment and our surroundings in order to rest peacefully at night. Some ideas that we have perpetuated have moved from one people group to another and oftentimes from one generation to another.
It seems to be human nature that we create gossip, rumors, and stories that are not true. We may be like this because communication bonds people together in their communities and subgroups, whether or not such communication is true. For one reason or another we’ve always been people who make up stories.
The biggest problem arises when storytelling people in our groups have immoral ulterior motives. They may want to be seen as the leader, to be seen as one who is more intelligent than others, or be covetously desirous of power and wealth. Such people will tell stories, some of which they might believe to be true, even if they have no evidence to support the truthfulness of them. And sometimes people tell stories because their agenda is just to discredit authority figures.
There’s nothing wrong with having theories about something that hasn’t been proven. But if you present a theory to others in the form of a story, you must remind whoever you’re telling your story to that the theory behind your story has not been proven. You should also emphasize to the listener that they must not pass on the story without telling others that it is an unproven theory rather than a fact.
Conspiracy theories start when people tell stories without emphasizing that they are unproven theories rather than facts.
We’ve all witnessed the consequences of conspiracy theories being widely disseminated and presented as if they were the undisputed truth. We’ve seen how people have gotten riled up and become paranoid when hearing such things. When people become frightened, they promote fear that already exists in the minds of others. They create separations in our society rather than togetherness.
Conspiracy theories can linger in a person's mind and shape the way they see the world, the words that they speak, and the actions that they take. Conspiracy theories that are not true can keep humanity in darkness. They can lead to violence. Even a simple conspiracy theory that isn’t particularly scary in itself can mushroom into something that becomes really dark over time.
We are intelligent creatures. If we hear things that sound like conspiracy theories, we must either not listen to them or prove or disprove them beyond the shadow of a doubt before we communicate anything at all about them to others.