Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy ­Theories

Adrian Chen in the New York Times Book Review:

0103-BKS-Chen-blog427-v2For all the talk of Donald Trump’s unpresidential behavior, the Republican enfant terrible does share one notable trait with that paragon of presidentiality, George Washington: a fondness for conspiracy theories. Washington once wrote in a letter that he believed an Illuminati conspiracy was at work in America, while Trump is the figurehead of the birther movement, which claims Barack Obama is not a natural-born American citizen. The psychologist and science journalist Rob Brotherton’s new book, “Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy ­Theories,” helps explain why someone with such seemingly outlandish views can gain widespread public support. It turns out we are all conspiracy theorists.

Brotherton attacks the stereotype, which he says was popularized by the historian Richard Hofstadter in his influential essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” of conspiracy theorists as a small band of tinfoil-adorned loonies — the paranoid fringe. Brotherton’s main argument is that we all possess a conspiracy mind-set to some extent, because it is hard-wired into our brains. “Suspicious Minds” details the various psychological “quirks and shortcuts” that make us susceptible to conspiracy theories.

For example, psychologists have discovered that we possess an “intentionality bias,” which tricks us into assuming every incidental event that happens in the world is the result of someone’s intention.

More here.