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“Let the Conspiracy Theories Begin!”

So begs the inner lizard. What makes conspiracy theories so seductive to our primitive selves?

Today, COVID-19 diagnoses among those who lead us further burden our pandemic stress level. Fear alarms go off. Panic buttons may even get pushed. Our inner lizards put on their gloves and ready for a fight, ever on guard to save the day. Buying into a conspiracy theory is the perfect ticket to finding the boxing ring. Of course, fights begin. Stress levels may even lower, as we act out our angst.

Problem addressed, as far as our inner lizards are concerned. However our inner owls are left to deal with the confusion and interpersonal consequences that come with bringing conspiracy thinking into our lives.

How does this happen? Something like this:

  • Fight or flight wiring narrows our focus onto something to either fight or flee from.
  • Throwing a punch or running away doesn’t work for “invisible” threats like a virus or pandemic.
  • Conspiracy theories identify certain groups of people as responsible for a threat, which make for convenient objects to blame.
  • Once identified, the inner lizard is able to duke it out with such objects, fueling fundamental attribution error at its finest.
  • Sense of control and certainty returns, as we shift blame and focus onto our conspiracy of choice.
  • Fear and anxiety lower as the inner owl focuses attention on the conspiracy, and less on the real yet more uncertain and uncontrollable threat.

So what do we do? How do we avoid getting drawn in, and messing up our lives with conspiracy thinking? We break up this pattern by letting the inner owl step in before we get entrenched. When encountering a conspiracy theory:

  • Consider the source. Who is sharing these ideas? Where did this theory originate?
  • Consider more than one source and more than one piece of information that support such thinking.
  • Don’t forget to look for disconfirming data.
  • Practice healthy skepticism. In other words, play “devil’s advocate” before buying into theories that are likely to create more stress or conflict, rather than solve the problem.

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