Conspiracy theories are a tricky concept because some of the time the conspiracies are true. The government has been behind some pretty horrific events that were whispered about before they were confirmed, instances like MK-Ultra and the Tuskegee syphilis experiment. Whether that means that lizard people run the government, like 12 million Americans believe, or that the government secretly uses alien technology, is another story.
It’s obvious by now that “fake news” driven by false conspiracies can do significant damage, but what’s not as clear is who is most susceptible to believing these tall tales.
In the past, other researchers posited that what separates more reasonable, vanilla thinkers from conspiracy theorists is their higher cognitive ability or analytic thinking style, but according to a paper released Monday in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, what actually sets the Fox Mulders and Dana Scullys apart is the motivation to exercise rational thinking. Increased cognition is helpful, write Tomas Ståhl, Ph.D., and J.W. van Prooijen, Ph.D., in their new paper — but it’s really being a rational person that’s key.
“We show that reasonable skepticism about various conspiracy theories and paranormal phenomena does not only require a relatively high cognitive ability, but also strong motivation to be rational,” Ståhl, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, explained in a statement.
“When the motivation to form your beliefs based on logic and evidence is not there, people with high cognitive ability are just as likely to believe in conspiracies and paranormal phenomena as people with lower cognitive ability.”
Read More: Inverse