Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories

My book, Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories, is out now! You can buy it now from all the usual places, in hardback and for Kindle and other e-readers. (Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk / Barnes & Noble / Waterstones)

Suspicious Minds cover

Here’s what the book is all about…

Everyone loves a good conspiracy theory. The plots of countless Hollywood blockbusters, bestselling books, and beloved TV shows revolve around conspiratorial shenanigans, and surprising numbers of people believe that the kinds of vast, insidious conspiracies that Mulder and Scully routinely unearthed on The X-Files are happening right now in the real world. Yet conspiracy theories are not a recent invention, and they are not always a harmless curiosity.

In SUSPICIOUS MINDS: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories (Bloomsbury / November 17, 2015 / $27, hardcover), Rob Brotherton, a research psychologist and leading expert on the psychology of conspiracy theory, explores the history and consequences of conspiracism, and offers insights into why so many of us are drawn to implausible, unproven and unprovable conspiracy theories. They resonate with some of our brain’s built-in quirks and foibles, and tap into some of our deepest desires, fears, and assumptions about the world. But conspiracy theories are not unique in eliciting our brain’s biases. From our love of heroic underdogs to our tendency to see hidden hands behind ambiguous events, the same mental quirks that make conspiracy theories appealing are constantly shaping how we think about the world. Most of the time our biases simply slip by unnoticed.

The fascinating psychology of conspiracy theories tells us a lot about how our minds are wired and, indeed, why we believe anything at all. Conspiracy theories are not some psychological aberration—they’re a predictable product of how brains work. And, of course, just because your brain’s biased doesn’t always mean you’re wrong. Sometimes conspiracies are real. Sometimes, paranoia is prudent.

Conspiracy theorists aren’t just a few kooks lurking on the paranoid fringes of society with bizarre ideas about shape-shifting reptiles secretly running society. According to Brotherton, we’re all conspiracy theorists—some of us just hide it better than others.

And here’s what people are saying about it…

 “Sophisticated and absorbing…This is a first-class book. It melds science, history and popular culture cleverly and with purpose.” James McConnachie (author of The Rough Guide to Conspiracy Theories), Sunday Times

“…presents a textured and often surprising look into the fascinating world of conspiracy theories. A world so often described as dark and shady is shown to be much closer to home than we could have first imagined.”Ella Rhodes, The Psychologist

“[W]hen we’re faced with events we cannot understand, it’s natural for our brains to create a narrative–even if it means ‘casting the world in terms of “us versus”‘ to potentially dangerous ends, as Brotherton puts it. ‘There are more conspiracy theorists out there than you might expect,’ he writes. ‘Chances are you know some. Chances are you are one.’” –TIME Magazine

“[Brotherton] casts doubt on the assumption that far-fetched beliefs are reserved for the simple-minded or the exceedingly paranoid…Although we like to think our judgments are based on evidence, Brotherton reveals that a host of psychological factors come into play whenever we choose what to believe.” –Scientific American

“Rob Brotherton, an academic psychologist, gives a greatest-hits tour of conspiracy theories past and present, all the while seeking to explain their appeal. Rather than some unhinged mode of being, he argues, conspiracy thinking represents a heightening of cognitive tendencies shared by almost everyone. –Pacific Standard

“The world of conspiracy theory is a minefield of manic personalities, but Brotherton uses a measured scientific tone to explain our more creative anxieties. His writing style is inviting and even cheeky, and the book is a page-turner. A thoughtful, general analysis of conspiracy theories arguing that belief in secret plots is neither new nor unusual but a time-tested part of the human experience.” –Kirkus Reviews

“Clearly written and with liberal use of humor and numerous examples from scholarly research, this title provides a valuable look at why conspiracy theories abound and why we should continually assess our thinking.” –Library Journal, starred review

“Over the course of this all-too-short book, Brotherton illustrates how incomplete, contradictory, coincidental, and incongruent information can allow people to see conspiracies and connections where there are none, due in part to the theories’ plausibility and humans’ innate desire for order, as well as a given individual’s understanding of how the world works. Put simply, people want to believe. Brotherton maintains an educational approach to the material, leading readers through the logic behind each concept as he explores subjects as diverse as the Illuminati, the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion (“not a very good fake”), the Kennedy assassination, and birthers. While Brotherton might not convince all believers to remove their tinfoil hats (a concept whose origin he explains), it’s sure to make readers question their worldview.” –Publishers Weekly, starred review

About Rob Brotherton

Rob is a Visiting Research Fellow at Goldsmiths, University of London, and assistant editor of The Skeptic [www.skeptic.org.uk]. Follow Rob on Twitter: @rob_brotherton
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35 Responses to Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories

  1. debneill says:

    Thanks Rob! I’m looking forward to reading it!

    • Don Michelle Amora says:

      Yes, I too wish to read this work, Interestingly, I like to ask, how does a psychologist defend from cognitive dissonance? No, not cognitive dissidence, the one where you begin to hate your favourite flavour of ice cream. The one where you loose touch with your own sense of reality as a statement offered or theroy given does not fit into your ordinary daily experience. Like, I saw a UFO, how does a psycologist refrain or defend from GD? From what I have herd, it’s a very large pill they take when they wake up each day, one side blue, the other red. This statement is for humour sake, but seriously are they (sociologist), trained to cope with this emence psychological effect, or are they themselves mostly operating in insanity as they hear the unordianry daily?

  2. Ray says:

    BULL DUST YOUR FULL OF IT

  3. y0d4 says:

    lol, you are misinformation, nothing more..
    for example … NWO is “conspiracy theory” (by people which only credibility news are main stream) … but on other side all main politicians and presidents talking about it …

  4. tom says:

    My son will become highly motivated to do better to work and make very positive changes in his life, to rid of negative desires to obtain a means of survival. He will become very charge and motivated it will be very powerful and he will only desire to improving his life this will literally happen over 6 hours he will remain positive and focused.

  5. tyrannynews says:

    I must say that your approach to the topic is far more sophisticated and less alarmist than that of Jonathan Kay. Having only read a 39 page preview so far, I can’t endorse or condemn the book; only make a few points and estimate the book’s value.

    The difficulty in truly providing a full basis for whatever argument you seek to make in a book of this kind is its approach is very narrow. You’ve chosen psychology as the lens through which to view conspiracy theories. Others have chosen the historical record, or focusing on central groups that are the purported source of many theories. Some have viewed the theorists in a chronology that begins with the JFK assassination. No single approach, I think can really inform a person about the phenomenon.

    As a person with a conspiracist ideology who views it as a necessary trait for anyone seeking understanding, I honestly think I’m better equipped to address this topic because of what I’ve come across in my research and observations. It may benefit you to learn how I now see the topic should likely be approached. And yes, much of it involves viewing things differently. But if you expect I’m about to spout strings of disjointed evidence in support of various conspiracy theories, that’s not the kind of different thinking I’m referring to.

    An analysis of either your own or someone else’s ability to discern what is and what is not a conspiracy begins by setting some ground rules. Unfortunately there are no short cuts and nothing can be assumed. No source or witness may be entitled to greater credulity, and no so-called fact may pass even if it’s advertised to be common knowledge for even 1000 years. It might even be wise to apply greater scrutiny to “facts” thought to be irrefutable.

    The next important step or goal in the process is to achieve at least a sufficient understanding of the various mechanisms of society, recent past and present. This includes getting an understanding of the smaller groups that exist within larger frameworks. For instance, politics involves much more than just the branches of government and politicians. There are political parties and their convention overseers, lobbying groups and those that regulate them to content with. Thankfully, as there’s no harm in being advised by people like myself you’ll have far less work getting to the source of most conspiracies by focusing on government.

    In the excerpt I read from your book, you provide a brief account of Rome burning under Nero’s reign. Your point was that the conspiracy that Nero intentionally set the city ablaze is likely based in rumor. I won’t argue with that point one bit. I rarely argue when someone presents an alternative account of a historic event. Does that mean I hold a generally skewed view of history in general? You bet it does. You see, once a major event like the burning of Rome can legitimately be called into question every related account from that point forward requires a second look. And that’s where we find ourselves today.

    A final strategy I recommend employing as a person begins to weigh conspiracy theories is to recognize that, as you state we’re all conspiracy theorists. And just as grandma might have said that music is none of her business, neither will discernment be something all people will be skilled at. Frankly, most people find at least a few conspiracies titillating. They will nearly all be well-known theories and at least half will be either misguided or false. It’s best to remain as far from hubs of conspiracy theory discussion as possible. Yes, you’ll inevitably be drawn to some publications or corners of the Internet where people play fast and loose with the data. But don’t set down roots there and expect that a mere 1% will be information worthy of pursuit and 0% will be fully deconstructed conspiracies.

    With that advice to yourself and others, I’ll explain what paradigms exist that confuse the issue and cause so many people to misunderstand their world. First, the world and everything in it is totally unknown to you. Second, our very history itself is a conspiracy. Thirdly, science, academe and our apparent civilizations are a fraud. How many American’s know that William Tynsdale is often credited as the inventor of the English language in around 1530? How many could put Handel, Beethoven, Bach and Mozart in the correct chronological sequence?

    My overall point here is that, as you probably understand very well we tend to hold very roundly packaged beliefs or understandings of things. The civil war was fought over slavery. Watergate was about the President organizing a burglary. Fluoridated water is for our dental health. Universities are marketplaces of ideas. Given time, I could come up with some really great examples. But you get the idea. More often than not, we misunderstand something.

    So when it comes to consideration of conspiracies, we’re already at a loss because we only vaguely comprehend the world around us. In my experience, the average American will have little ability to judge something a conspiracy if the center of it isn’t an area they’re familiar with. That makes sense. Conversely, an average American who happens to work in an industry in which the conspiracy is centered will not only be a better judge of the conspiracy but might even explain why it’s either obvious or predictable.

    Ultimately, my overall theory is that some of the most strongly held beliefs we have are based largely in conspiracy. Not only were they crimes or deceptions when they took place or emerged as official accounts, but continued efforts to conceal them definitely constitutes a conspiracy. And how widely accepted as being true something is has little correlation to whether it is, in fact true. There’s the horrible and also amazing paradigm.

    I don’t subscribe to the conspiracy that shape-shifting reptile beings are enslaving us. Neither do I believe in extra-terrestrials. Huh?! Surely I believe that 9/11 was an inside job to either usher in a police state or justify the theft of Middle East oil. I do not. Don’t get me wrong. I suspect 9/11 was an inside job. But I think it was a crime designed to cover up previous crimes. I also suspect strongly that most governments of the world were either aware, complicit or even accomplices.

    I’ll end by suggesting that most prominent efforts to denigrate conspiracy theorists are coordinated efforts by the deep state. The vast array of academic works on the topic are merely the product of an arrangement between the author’s and agencies of government under a vast program that works to protect the deep state. Oh yeah. Did I forget to explain that the US government and many others are now fully entrenched corporatocracies? And our economies are actually running two books. One is the facade most people see, while the other is structured like nothing most people could even imagine. It’s really very simple how everything works when you consider it’s been this way for a very long time. The systems themselves have been refined and distilled into very unassuming and self-sustaining components of the whole. Nations as divergent as North Korea and Britain are one, given the proper security clearance. The media is not just biased conflicts of interest. They haven’t reported any news in decades and now have taken to being core players in outrageous deceptions. The system ensures that not one person will be allowed to know enough and have the chance to report it. But the system is dying, and the massive numbers of participants have begun to sabotage themselves. Is truth the opposite of evil? If so, then the whole thing can be viewed as evil and it’s eating itself.

    It may not be the “age of the conspiracy theory” so much as it’s the “age of conspiracies and efforts to cover them up.” Fortunately, it looks like this will be a very short age. Next comes the age of reconstruction, reconciliation, retrospection and self-reliance.

    • Don Michelle Amora says:

      Interestingly put, I like to ask, how does a psychologist defend from cognitive dissonance? No, not cognitive dissidence, the one where you begin to hate your favourite flavour of ice cream. The one where you loose touch with your own sense of reality as a statement offered or theroy given does not fit into your ordinary daily experience. Like, I saw a UFO, how does a spcologist refrain from GD? From what I have herd, it’s a very large pill they take when they wake up each day, one side blue, the other red. Do you see my point?

    • Thanks for your perspective. It is an Amazing statement of truly understanding the system paradigm. It is so complex and so convoluted that in my studies of it for almost 2 decades, I don’t believe the participants themselves are aware of what they are involved in…

      I too see “them” eating their tails as the enormity of it all overwhelms those that are Progeny of those that set the wheels in motion. We shall beat “them” through attrition and noncompliance…The Damocles Sword though, is our impatience. Your level head and understanding of the why is very important in the overview…We can’t fix history but we can work today towards a better tomorrow..Hopefully it’s not “too little, too late” ,,,

    • Atalanta69 says:

      Dear Tyranny News, thank you for your post. I am certainly more motivated to try and track you down elsewhere than I am to read this book, although I shall (reluctantly) buy a copy.
      There was a time when I had a naïve faith in the academic establishment, but ten years as a lecturer/researcher has scoured away any expectation of finding genuine independence of thought. Endemic job insecurity and the pressure to publish ‘useful’ research has not helped matters, but the principle problem is that few academics understand that their role is to be truly subversive, rather than spewing the official line in question begging projects like this blog. Here I am referring to the point that was made by other commenters here – that any ‘research’ that takes a pejorative term like ‘conspiracy theorists’ as apodictic rather than problematic, in the Aristotelian sense, is automatically suspect.
      Theories may be true or false, but they are not made so by the monopolising power of those who assert them. In failing to acknowledge this, those who ridicule ‘conspiracy theorists’ show less philosophical savvy than the ‘tin hatters’ they scorn.

  6. hybridrogue1 says:

    “offers insights into why so many of us are drawn to implausible, unproven and unprovable conspiracy theories.”~Brotherton

    It is intriguing to read such generalizations here on the Conspiracy of Psychology Theories.

    Does any segment of your book address the conspiracies that are proven, and therefore by that very fact make them “plausible”?

    As a conspiracy analyst I can say with great confidence that there are conspiracies to analyze.
    There is in fact a grand overarching conspiracy to do with the globalization of political power into the hands of a tiny elite. It never seems to get mentioned in this so-called “psychological” literature.

    One might get a glimpse into this literature here:
    https://hybridrogue1.wordpress.com/2015/04/26/compulsory-schooling-indoctrination/
    \\][//

  7. Pavel Š. says:

    Will buy your book & looking forward to get some fresh insight for my final thesis about CT and media.

  8. nicky says:

    look at the work of Dr judy wood, where did the towers go and the work of Andrew Johnson on his site check the evidence. Good scientifically grounded work

    • hybridrogue1 says:

      Dr Judy Wood’s thesis is pseudoscience fantasy. She is a tool of Morgan Reynolds and Andrew Johnson, both are moles in the 9/11 truth movement.
      \\][//

      • Pavel Š. says:

        interesting, there´s a conspiracy within a conspiracy movement?

      • hybridrogue1 says:

        No Pavel Š., There is infiltration by moles in the Truth movement. They use such twisting of language; rather like your use of the term “conspiracy movement”. They pose wild and impossible theories that taints the real and rational revelations of state involvement in perpetrating 9/11.

        In other words, to make this very simple – counter-intelligence hire groups to make up stupid stories to make people think that anyone who thinks that 9/11 was a false flag psychological operation look as stupid as the agents promoting those stupid stories.

        Such concepts shouldn’t be so hard to grasp for a person with a modicum of intelligence.
        \\][//

      • Lol…Yeah she is using pseudoscience. What are your qualifications? Here are hers, If yours are better and you can prove them, I will apologize…You are an idiot. While she has a doctorate in Mechanical Engineering…You fool!

        Judy D. Wood, Ph.D.

        Dr. Judy Wood earned a Ph.D. Degree from Virginia Tech and is a former professor of mechanical engineering. She has research expertise in experimental stress analysis, structural mechanics, deformation analysis, materials characterization and materials engineering science. Her research has involved testing materials, including complex-material systems, in the area of photomechanics, or the use of optical and image-analysis methods to determine physical properties of materials and measure how materials respond to forces placed on them. Her area of expertise involves interferometry in forensic science. She taught graduate and undergraduate engineering classes and has authored or co-authored over 60 peer-reviewed papers and journal publications in her areas of expertise

  9. GalacarII says:

    Rob doesn’t even seems to know where the term ‘conspiracy theorist’ came from, and why it is such a negative loaded term. Hence he felt in the trap most humans do.
    I also read his critique on Icke at Wembley, and Rob even admits he hasn’t read his books!!!!!
    How more stupid can you get?
    Now, who is the crazy one here. eh?

    It seems Ron has lots of confirmation bias with regards to conspiracy theories.
    And then I mean lots. Maybe he is CFR who knows.
    The elite is terrified of the truth comig out. so they need a littke help from tgeir ‘friends’,
    It sure smell a lot like elite-propaganda, that is for sure.

    But, it is a fun read, I agree. Lots of , unintended, humour,

    But he obviously has no clue about what he is talking.none at all.

    But a very funny guy. that’s for sure.

  10. GalacarII says:

    “Dr Judy Wood’s thesis is pseudoscience fantasy. She is a tool of Morgan Reynolds and Andrew Johnson, both are moles in the 9/11 truth movement.”

    Well then, instead of kind of attacking the whole thing, please explain where she is wrong then”

    I don’t think you can do that and are trying to save your ass because of cognitive dissonance.

    (personally I think it is even worse then she tells, there are lot of hints at 9/11 if you know where and how to look)

    and btw there were NO PLANES.

  11. GalacarII says:

    well, let’s ask it.

    Who are you working for, mate?

  12. hybridrogue1 says:

    And since I can only post one link at a time to not get stuck in moderation, see this one as well:
    https://hybridrogue1.wordpress.com/2015/09/18/911-false-flag-psyop/

    As you can see, I am working for the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
    \\][//

  13. GalacarII says:

    hybridrogue1

    I asked you a question. You didn’t answer it! Can’t? 😉

  14. GalacarII says:

    “As you can see, I am working for the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

    lol, maybe if you shout loud enough…………………………………………….

    o btw please define: pseudo-science! The religion of science is full of shite.
    So, what is pseudoscience, mate?

  15. GalacarII says:

    “I see, you are a dupe or a tool of this pseudoscience nonsense as well.”

    This is called an ad hominem. Mostly used if one is without any arguments

    But eh, You are funny as well. 🙂

  16. GalacarII says:

    But eh, hybridrogue1

    I see you are at least a conspiracy theorist which is a good thing!

    Now, dig a little deeper please,

    • hybridrogue1 says:

      GalacarII, I gave you links to all the information you need to disabuse yourself of your goofy adherence to Judy Woowoo’s science fiction baloney,
      If you won’t read and learn that is your problem.
      I have her book, I know what her story is, and it is pseudoscience. And that simply means ‘fake science’ – anyone with a dictionary should be able to look that up.

      I am a conspiracy analyst Galacar.

      You’ve had the answers from me that you are going to get. That’s it for you.
      FINI
      \\][//

  17. y0d4 says:

    i will copy/paste my answer from one website on similar subject:

    Well because i first “eat” CT story’s almost at full, i put “finger on forehead” and ask my self is this all real even if bunch of story was not possible by my view..
    After years of reading junks, disinformation, propaganda, i think “the truth is out there” for most of story`s…
    How media can transfer to us same news from couple different views, that`s how CT`s switch story how they see + on that, their “hate” (emotion) to government blow their mind and because (i think is in our nature to believe) they pass on CT`s side easily, specially if they don`t have knowledge on that field…
    + from history we have bunch of prof that there is evil inside people who experiment on people (and today continue to work on that), i think that i don`t need to continue about this, everyone know at last one fact about that (war as main example for me).

    Also i cannot blame them because of fear (emotion) for their safety (special safety for their family)… but can because of their blind belief (by me, same as religions) without asking is this real…
    For me CT`s are same as 100% believers in main stream news (one side of view) which is almost propaganda (depend in which country you are)…
    And for me conspiracy theory (word) don`t exist, it`s just theory as many, YOU decide do you want believe in that or not.
    As someone said:

    problem is that bunch of CT don`t even know what is critical thinking (but that is other story)…

    By my opinion i think “conspiracy theorist” are name for disinformation (disinformation part of psychological warfare) created by people who run the wars. Also believe that some CT story was made by same people.
    When you have bunch of information/story about one subject, it`s very hard to find the truth.
    Even if we think that we know that and have “proof” about that, for some time truth is different, take science as represent, for example (maybe stupid compare, but i think you will catch what i want to say): we “know” that earth was flat, later we “know” that is around, today, we “know” is oblate spheroid…
    I don`t think that CT are extremist or similar, that is on individual to decide does they want to solve something on peaceful way or the other…

    Maybe this is off topic, but it`s necessary to try to understand human nature when we talk about him…
    Some links which i recommend to watch/read:

    POLITICAL PONEROLOGY
    https://www.dropbox.com/s/7feo2eqplahitpn/ponerology.pdf?dl=1

    Philip Zimbardo: The psychology of evil

    And about reality how world function is again from individual to individual, special if they from different country, culture… maybe i am going off topic, but am i sure that people from example Iceland see different world then from people from USA, Russia or China etc.
    their education system are different and in same time their thinking and world view is different (not to talk about propaganda).

    p.s: sorry for my Engrish

    btw: i am from Serbia (ex. Yugoslavia), if you know something about “my” case, i would like to hear, because one is what mainstream media (west media) was telling for us to the world, second is what was happen here…
    So, as i said, your view of media/world is different from my, because i am getting propaganda almost all my life, which can confirm many people from my country…
    So, if YOU don`t see propaganda in your media, some other see for sure…
    Btw: example, see how north korea have education system, media… and i am not talking about west main stream media… for example, some Croatian journalist was there and make some documentaries, which is totally different what west media say…
    Second example, see USA and Russia media about one event, what they saying…
    And what do you say about “Operation Mockingbird” ?

    What i want to say, is that every story have more sides, not only one.

    one of view about alternative media:

    Here is one good article:
    http://www.spring.org.uk/2010/12/the-illusion-of-truth.php

  18. GalacarII says:

    to y0d4,

    Very good piece, thank you!

  19. GalacarII says:

    Now will he write another book? :

    ‘conspiracies are real?” lol

    I very much doubt it.

    A lot of people dismiss conspiracy theories WITHIOUT ANY INVESTIGATION.

    e.g. look up the idiot Chris French, a ‘critical thinker’ , yeah right!

    He doesn’t even research but talks a lot aout things he hasn’t researched.

  20. Pavel Š. says:

    It´s an excellent book, it was really helpful when writing my bachelor thesis. It summarizes the most actual research very well and gives important hints. Just wanted to mention it so not just the omnipresent trolling makes up all the comments here.

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