Home Concepts Decison Making & Problem Solving The Crises of Expertise and Belief: Sample Chapter

The Crises of Expertise and Belief: Sample Chapter

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Kevin Weitz, Psy.D. and William Bergquist, Ph.D.

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Chapter Five

The Dangerous Influence of Conspiracy Theories

One key element of any conspiracy theory is pattern perception – an assumption about how people and events are causally connected … Understanding the world by identifying cause and effect helped our ancestors to recognize threats and opportunities, to foresee the consequences of their actions, and to strategically adjust their behavior to fit the demands of the situation. Whereas many of the patterns that people perceive are real and functional to internalize, people sometimes mistakenly perceive patterns that do not exist. – Van Prooijen and van Vugt (2018)

Were you aware that the devastating forest fires that plagued California in past years were intentionally caused by space lasers? Republican representative Marjorie Taylor Greene posted this theory on Facebook connecting the Rothschilds, a Jewish banking family, to the California wildfires. The post held that space lasers may have been used to start the fires to clear the area for a planned high-speed rail project. Also, please be cautious when traveling to the Denver airport because it contains an underground lair that the super-rich will use as a safe haven to avoid the apocalypse. The airport is also the secret headquarters of the illuminati who strategize a new world order. And, by the way, they are lizard people.

Large numbers of people actually believe these stories and many like them. Some are benign and even somewhat humorous (like the Flat Earth Society), but some are so bazaar that they scare and mobilize people, such as the QANON conspiracy theory, and lead to violence.  These conspiracy theories have contributed to polarization in the United States and have torn communities and families apart. They have also played a role in increasing distrust in leaders and experts across the nation and around the world.

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