A recent study by psychologists at the University of Amsterdam looked at the consequences of feeling ambivalent, with interesting implications for belief in conspiracy theories.
We experience ambivalence when we feel both good and bad about something at the same time. Imagine eating an entire tub of ice cream. You know it would be a delightful way to spend five minutes – but you probably also know it’d be pretty bad for you in the long run. That’s ambivalence. It’s a common experience. We all feel conflicting emotions about things at some time or another. But we don’t tend to enjoy the feeling. Psychologists have known for a while that ambivalence is an undesirable state of mind, leading to negative emotions and even, in extreme cases, mental health problems. We habitually seek order and consistency, and to be ambivalent is to experience disorder. When we feel ambivalence we sometimes try to diminish or overcome it by updating our beliefs so we can arrive at a more unequivocal attitude, or simply by ignoring and downplaying the importance of the beliefs. Continue reading
[Edited 17/03/14: The survey is now closed. Thanks to everyone who took part]
We are conducting a survey of people’s opinions about what happened to the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. If you have 7 or 8 minutes to spare, please take part in the research. It would also be a huge help if you can pass the link on to others who might like to take part via email, Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media.
November 22nd marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Over the years, numerous investigations have amassed evidence that Lee Harvey Oswald was the assassin, and failed to find compelling proof that anyone else was involved. Yet the identity of the person who fired the fatal bullet is still a subject of debate among the public. In the run up to the anniversary, the internet has been rife with conspiracy theories surrounding Kennedy’s death. Polls consistently show that conspiracist accounts of the JFK assassination are more widely believed than any other conspiracy theory – most surveys show that a majority of the US public suspects that Lee Harvey Oswald wasn’t acting alone. Why is it that this event, more than any other, captured the conspiracist imagination and refuses to let go? Continue reading
[I wrote this article two years ago, on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. It was originally published in The Skeptic magazine.]
On the morning of September 11th, 2011, New York City solemnly remembered the thousands of people who lost their lives in the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks of ten years ago. At the newly completed memorial where the Twin Towers once stood in Lower Manhattan, the names of the 2,977 people who died in the towers, the Pentagon, and on the hijacked airplanes were read by family members and friends. Their voices reverberated for blocks around the subdued streets of the financial district.
But two blocks from the Ground Zero memorial, opposite the peace-ribbon-covered railings of St. Paul’s Chapel at the corner of Broadway and Fulton Street, the victims’ names were drowned out by a general rabble punctuated by chants of “controlled demolition, 9-11” and “three buildings, two planes”. Continue reading