Powerless need someone to hate

January 14, 2000

Some will dismiss it as a sinister plot to besmirch them but psychologists have found most conspiracy theorists are alienated individuals seeking someone to blame for their powerlessness, writes Raj Persaud.

The conclusion has emerged from an investigation into why ordinary people subscribe to such ideas. Marina Abalakina and colleagues at New Mexico State University in the United States have published their findings in the journal Political Psychology.

Surveys have shown that 90 per cent of Americans are convinced that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone in killing President Kennedy, 41 per cent conclude the US Air Force is hiding evidence of flying saucers, while 35 per cent of African-American church-goers believe the Aids epidemic was contrived as a form of genocide.

The most popular academic theory about conspiracies was that they provided a coherent and appealingly simple explanation of otherwise complex social events.

However, Dr Abalakina's new research does not support this. Her team questioned 156 students.

Subjects showed a tendency towards alienation from society, a distrust of authority, hostility, feeling powerless and a sense that the individual had been unfairly disadvantaged. These people are often unimpressed by conventional explanations for events because they reject the legitimacy of traditional authority figures.

The research found that conspiracy theories allow the enraged to externalise their angry feelings by providing enemies to blame for problems they feel unable to influence themselves.

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