The children’s book “Alice in Wonderland” has some wisdom ready. This also describes how people sink deeper and deeper into the world of conspiracy theories.
The earth is flat, the corona virus does not exist: Most people can smile about such conspiracy theories. But a few people take them at face value: they seem trapped in an alternate reality.
But how does this happen? Psychologist Robbie Sutton and his colleague Karen Douglas from the University of Kent describe the development as “Rabbit Hole Syndrome”.
With the metaphor of the rabbit hole, they allude to a scene in Lewis Carroll’s children’s book “Alice in Wonderland”: Curious little Alice follows a rabbit into a tunnel without thinking how she will ever get out again. And before she can change her mind, she begins to fall – and she falls and falls, deeper and deeper.
As Sutton and Douglas describe in the journal “Current Opinion in Psychology”, the belief in conspiracies also develops unplanned. At first the process was rather slow; the theories might just arouse a little curiosity.
But the more one deals with the theories, the more one’s own beliefs change, slowly at first, then faster and faster, and at the same time frustration, uncertainty and the need for explanations grow – a “recursive”, i.e. self-reinforcing dynamic.
The fact that the way back is becoming increasingly difficult is also due to the fact that like-minded people fulfill the need for bonding, belonging and a common goal.
Exchanges with them increase while other contacts decrease. And with the new social network, the social identity is also changing to that of a lateral thinker or a seeker of truth.
In the final phase, the convictions become so strong that the process can hardly be reversed: the believer has now dug himself deep into the burrow. The stronger the belief, the more he thinks he can recognize supposed patterns and causalities in this light – everything seems to be somehow related to the big conspiracy.
This thinking can take on a mystical dimension, marked by radical skepticism about reality and speculative ideas as a legitimate path to knowledge.
According to Sutton and Douglas, however, it is unclear why only a minority disappear down the rabbit hole: What is stopping the majority? Intelligence does not protect against it. When the circumstances are right, everyone is prone to believing in conspiracy theories, said author Karen Douglas in a lecture at the University of Basel at the end of October.
“People can get sucked into conspiracy theories quite by accident, and once they find themselves in this maze of alternative facts, it’s difficult to find a way out.”
However, the development can be stopped – by entering into a conversation with respect and encouraging analytical thinking about a problem.
The original of this article “Researcher explains conspiracy theorists with “Alice in Wonderland” comparison” comes from Spektrum.de.