Pandemic conspiracy theories are spreading like a virus. It may help to know why.

The pandemic conspiracy theories are out of control, y’all. I keep seeing more and more of them, and more and more people I thought were reasonably smart and discerning keep sharing them.

Seeing rationality fly out the window always freaks me out a bit. But I recently read something that helped me better understand why this phenomenon is happening.

According to a study by British researchers, people fall prey to conspiracy theories because they satisfy three psychological needs. (The researcher called them “desires.” For the folks we’re talking about in the time of crisis we’re in, I think they are closer to needs.)

1. A need for understanding and certainty

2. A need for control and security

3. A need to feel good about oneself

So yeah. Of course this pandemic has people entertaining all kinds of kooky, out-there conspiracies. Aside from the fact that we’ve suddenly found ourselves in a bizarre new reality, which makes bizarre ideas seem more palatable, a pandemic is perfectly tailored to conspiracy theory thinking.

After all:

The nature of a pandemic is living with constant uncertainty and learning as we go. There is no certainty whatsoever about any of it at this point, and our understanding literally changes by the day.

The pandemic is something we can’t control. And by threatening our health, upending our economic situation, and completely throwing off our sense of normal, it has disrupted our sense of security.

Then, to add insult to injury, our social norms are all jacked up because of social distancing, which messes with people’s sense of self.

And those things all feed one another. A lack of control makes us feel less safe. Uncertainty means there’s a lot of not knowing, which makes us feel insecure, which makes us feel bad.

Grand conspiracy theories still don’t make rational, logical sense (though folks will insist otherwise), but they DO satisfy those psychological needs.

It’s easier to believe there is certainty in the situation, even if that certainty is that there’s an evil plot afoot, than to accept than the reality that we are in the midst of a viral outbreak and economic collapse that we can’t currently see a way out of.

It’s easier to believe that the numbers are being skewed than to accept that mass death is happening and no one can stop it.

It’s easier to think that this is all a manipulative ploy to control people than it is to accept a reality where we have to make enormous sacrifices in order to save lives, and that there are no choices before us that don’t involve huge losses of one kind or another.

It’s easier to believe that someone nefarious is behind all of this—that it’s a #plandemic—because that means *someone* is controlling it, and maybe we *could* control it if we could just blow the lid off The Grand Plan.

It’s easier to think that the Chinese government or Bill Gates or the creators of 5G or the WHO or Dr. Fauci (seriously, people?) or some other boogeyman is pulling strings behind a curtain in some kind of master plan than to accept that there’s a virus no one can control running rampant through the world.

As much as it doesn’t make sense, for some people, conspiracy thinking is safer and more comfortable emotionally and psychologically than our current reality is.

It reminds me a bit of when that toddler was killed by an alligator at Disney World and people quickly started assigning blame. It was Disney’s fault! It was the parents’ fault! Really, it was a freak accident that was no one’s fault, but some people simply can’t accept that reality. Accepting that would mean it could just as easily have happened to them or their own children, and that’s too hard a pill to swallow. It’s easier to believe that someone was to blame, therefore it could be controlled and wouldn’t happen to them.

Assigning blame is the only way some people can make sense of a senseless thing.

But with a global pandemic, the blame has to be much grander—and grand, global conspiracies are a favorite theme in Conspiracyland. They are SO big and SO grandiose that it feels silly to even try to refute them. And the people who peddle these theories are really good at making people feel good about themselves for believing in them.

You know something the “sheep” do not! You are awake while the majority are asleep. You are informed and thinking critically while the masses are just doing what mainstream media tells them. You are part of an information revolution that sees what’s really happening while the rest have the wool pulled over their eyes. You are special because you’re in the know. It’s all being controlled, and you can be secure in knowing that you understand what’s really happening.

That messaging is incredibly effective on some people under normal circumstances. During a global pandemic, it’s downright hypnotizing, even for some people who normally wouldn’t be swayed by conspiracy theories.

And unfortunately, once people head into that rabbit hole, it’s really hard to get them back out.

It doesn’t matter that the globally coordinated scope of such conspiracies would have to be so unbelievably vast—with thousands upon thousands of people and hundreds of nations who can’t agree on anything suddenly being able to work together for evil and also keep it all a secret—as to be literally impossible.

It doesn’t matter that the majority of the world’s immunologists and epidemiologists—some of the nerdiest science geeks on the planet (said with the greatest of love and respect)—are most assuredly not part of a secret society working in cahoots with a Deep State or Globalist cabal to implant microchips or force vaccination on people, but folks who genuinely went into their line of work to help humanity through exactly the situation we are currently in.

It doesn’t matter that Bill Gates’ TED Talk on how we weren’t prepared for a pandemic in 2015 was not, in fact, a supervillain movie monologue outlining his diabolical plan, nor does it matter that Event 201 was just one of many pandemic simulations conducted over the years. Not even the world’s dumbest person would plan a purposeful pandemic in full public view, much less one of the world’s smartest people.

It doesn’t matter that there’s no evidence that 5G technology causes flu-like symptoms and that any legitimate health concerns about 5G have exactly nothing to do with the coronavirus outbreak.

It doesn’t matter that the “mainstream media” that conspiracy theorists love to demonize is not a monolithic thing with a unified messaging plan paid for by a political party or George Soros or whatever, but rather competing entities made up of thousands of journalists who actually do care about reporting on reality and upholding journalistic standards.

Facts and reason and logic don’t matter. Once people wade into the muddy conspiracy theory waters, it sucks them down like quicksand. Reputable sources refuting or debunking their claims are just part of the conspiracy. Rational arguments fall on deaf ears. They think they’re the ones thinking critically, but as soon as you start making too much sense, they “agree to disagree” and walk away because the cognitive dissonance is too much for them to sit with for too long.

Right now, it all comes down to what people are emotionally and psychologically able to handle, and there are a whole lot of people who just cannot live with a pandemic level of uncertainty and insecurity. When you desperately want answers in a situation where there aren’t clear answers, you’re left to either accept that reality or go with a made-up answer so that you don’t have to sit in the excruciating uncertainty of it all.

Conspiracy theory pushers live for these times when they can prey on people’s fears and provide the certainty and security people crave, no matter how outlandish or unreal the conspiracy.

And I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t have the time or the energy to fight every conspiracy theorist I encounter. But I do feel a tiny bit better knowing why so many people seem to be falling for this stuff at the moment.

(Next up I’ll get into where we find facts, how we determine what are reliable sources, and how to identify misinformation. I feel like that’s needed more than ever now.)

 If you enjoyed this post, please pass it along. You can follow Motherhood and More on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

Annie writes about life, motherhood, world issues, beautiful places, and anything else that tickles her brain. On good days, she enjoys juggling life with her husband and homeschooling her children. On bad days, she binges on chocolate chips and dreams of traveling the world alone.

Comments 12

  1. Mary Wildfire

    Something important is missed in this analysis, which is that conspiracy is possible, many government conspiracies clearly have occurred, and those who are aware of the evidence that; JFK, RFK and MLK died at the hands of probably CIA conspirators and not some lone nut; at the very least, 9/11 was the grand success it was because those at the top of the US government looked away and whistled loudly but more likely actively helped; Israel actually did attempt to sink a US ship, the USS Liberty, in 1967 and the survivors were forbidden from talking about it because they mattered less to Johnson’s government than their alliance with Israel. There is also some evidence that the CIA, having disposed of the president who sought to disband it, (JFK) moved to shut up any talk of the evidence by planting the meme of “conspiracy theories” so that anyone who asks questions is automatically assigned a tin foil hat. And no, all journalists–especially those at the top–are not eagerly trying to tell the public the truth, not when it comes to the wars of empire. This set of realities gives tremendous fodder to those attracted to conspiracy theories, and to the many websites that actually make a business out of providing fresh conspiracy theories every time there’s a major news story.
    I try to tell my neighbor and sister, who are sure that climate change is a hoax and so is COVID19, that you need to ask two questions when evaluating a theory: who benefits? because if no one benefits, or the benefit is slight and the risk of getting caught huge, then your theory becomes implausible. And secondly, how many people would have to be in on it? because as you said about the world’s epidemiologists, the notion that the world’s climate scientists are all pushing a made-up climate crisis so they can get research grants, is implausible (but note that this implies a conspiracy on the part of a much smaller group of scientists allied with oil companies,to keep raising doubt).
    And on COVID19, it’s entirely possible that it escaped from the biosecurity lab in Wuhan–or that it was planted there during the Military Games last October (the latter is less likely, because how could they imagine it would affect China and not spread?). And it’s more than likely that any surveillance authorized to make it possible to lift the lockdown earlier will be retained and kept in place afterward–that’s what governments do, ever since 9/11–spy on citizens more and more while keeping their own doings more and more secret. That doesn’t mean the virus is not real, or is only a flu…and it’s also entirely possible it came from bats into the live market in Wuhan. Likely we’ll never know…and it doesn’t matter all that much. It’s here and we have to deal with it

  2. Linda

    It is sadly interesting to see some replies that hang on to those conspiracy theories ….bet some of those folks are still waiting for Hillary to fall over from Parkinson’s or a lost birth certificate from Obama.
    I so wish people could be sane again and not throw fuel on dangerous fires that incite breaking safety suggestions, mislabeling health guidelines as inhibiting freedom and disbelieving scientific facts and numbers.
    Since when do you need to take a gun to a protest over going to a restaurant or getting your hair done??? If these had been black protesters carrying guns …protesting something important like equal pay or a wrongful death, they would have been shot. My heart breaks over this divide.

  3. Rhoda Tucker

    It is interesting that “they” removed the interviews with Dr. Mikowitz immediately , but allow Annie to totally discredit the conspiracy theories !! It seems that there is MUCH more to the
    post being removed and we’re left to only read what “they” want us to read !! OUTRAGEOUS, however, it is the AWAKENING and so let’s keep digging for the truth !!!!!
    The Light will win over the dark

  4. Annika

    You do realize that it is actually NOT comforting to swallow the main stream propaganda at this point? It is heart breaking and challenging to maintain open eyes and ears when it would be easier to suck on a pacifier and keep watching the news. When reality stops matching our biases and we have to consider shifting or expanding our understanding, it is called cognitive dissonance. It sounds like you are the one who feels comforted to “feel a tiny bit better knowing why so many people seem to be falling for this stuff at the moment”. There is so much false information on all “sides”, but to dismiss it all seems highly unwise.

  5. Simon

    That’s very helpful. Thank you for clearly stating how I feel about friends who otherwise seem rational but who pass these conspiracy theories that have no basis in logic. I truly believe that there is no way to pull people out of this dream state short of formal (voluntary) rehabilitation.

  6. Paul Dirks

    Thank you for expanding out to several paragraphs what I was trying to fit into slogan. People just can’t seem to get their head around the idea that nature is utterly indifferent to their beliefs. Needing to assign a CONTROLLER to what is otherwise a distressingly random process is messing with all of us in different ways. And here I sit operating under the delusion that batting down nonsense on Facebook is actually helping.

  7. mindy

    Watch OUT OF THE SHADOWS on youtube…. I think you may change your mind on much of what you’ve written here. Its easier to dupe people than to convince them much if what they know is a lie. Just give it a shot….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *