How Do Conspiracy Theories Arise?

By George A. Boyd ©2021

Q: How do we explain the prevalence of conspiracy theories?

A: We can look at this phenomenon from different perspectives:

  1. Targeted information triggers an innate tendency in the mind – this standpoint believes an “informational stimulus” interfaces with people’s karmic substrate and triggers an unconscious pattern. This position posits a stimulus-response mindset; if the tendency is already in the mind, the information will trigger it.
  2. Intentional influence – In this point of view, influencers manipulate people’s unconscious mind through specific words or images: they prey upon people’s desires, fears, hatred, guilt and shame to evoke emotions and to stir them to take action. You see this used in advertising; those with a political or religious agenda also utilize this strategy.
  3. Awakening negative character traits – This view holds that certain individuals only respond to the message of the conspiracy theory because it stirs innate character traits in them. The message draws out the mental aberrations of people with dark triad personality patterns—paranoia, antisocial, and Machiavellian traits—or borderline personality disorder. This perspective suggests that those who believe in conspiracy theories would have high levels of these associated personality disorders.
  4. Genetic substrate – This position holds that people’s response to a conspiracy theory is an inborn predisposition to process information in a non-linear, irrational way. In this perspective, people who believe in conspiracy theories potentially have different neurological wiring.
  5. Learned beliefs – This perspective holds that conspiracy theories are constructed. What people learn about a conspiracy theory consists of an array of beliefs that conform to their unconscious fears and desires. These irrational beliefs, with skilled intervention, can be deconstructed through psychotherapy or deprogramming.
  6. Splitting – In this stance, conspiracy theories evoke psychological splitting of people’s worldview into black and white, good and evil—and those who hold this mindset cannot reconstruct the whole picture of those they demonize. We see these dualistic mindsets in Zoroastrian, Manichean, Christian, and Islamic sects. These world views demonize those who are labeled alien, or non-believers; those who engage in religiously proscribed behavior; or those who support views different than their own. This same dualistic polarization and demonization of opponents can similarly be found in political ideology.
  7. Immersion in thought streams – In this outlook, conspiracy theories arise from listening to the thought streams of Occult Adepts, the purveyors of nonsense from the Psychic Realm, and those who misinterpret scripture in various religious groups. This same dynamics operate in religious cults, radical political organizations, and terrorist groups. This outlook perceives that people tune into a particular inner channel of information through intuition or outer information through the media—and this message resonates with what they have come to believe is true. This information stream (a) defines what is true, (b) gives people a rationale to believe it, (c) rewards them for believing it, and (d) it urges people to take action on these new beliefs.

People are exposed to the information from proponents of a conspiracy theory. Through whatever internal processing takes place for this information—through whichever explanatory perspective among one to seven—it changes their beliefs, reframes their perspective, and leads to new behavior. We can point to certain mental operations of the unconscious mind as contributing to the adoption of conspiracy theories; the cognitive behavioral approach (perspective five — learned beliefs) gives us hope that people who become enmeshed in these delusional frames can regain their rationality again.

Those who are interested in the dynamics underlying religious influence systems may find our book, Religions, Cults, and Terrorism: What the Heck Are Doing? helpful.

We take on these layers of false beliefs in our Cult Recovery Coaching Program, which is designed for those who have been involved in religious or political cults, and want to find their authentic inner compass again. We have several articles we have written about conspiracy theories in our web log: we invite those are interested in this topic to search for these articles.

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