A morbid curiosity is not inherently bad, but an increased interest in learning about the dangers presented in conspiracy theories can reinforce beliefs that the world is a much more dangerous place than it actually is.
Do you like scary movies, true crime podcasts or violent sports? Studies have shown that a major part of the attraction of these species is their appeal to morbid curiosity.
Engaging with scary media and the emotions it creates in a safe environment can help people relieve anxiety and build psychological resilience. However, our recent study, Published in the British Journal of Psychology , shows that an increased interest in learning about threats can also lead people to become interested in less positive types of stories: conspiracy theories.
From blood-sucking satanists who secretly rule the world to lizards shape-shifting aliens Pervading the world, conspiracy theories often offer alternative explanations for disturbing events. Everyone concentrates on the suggestion that a group Malice of people stands behind strange or political happenings. to conspiracy theories There is another thing in common - they go against the mainstream explanations and lack concrete evidence.
If the drive to seek out conspiracy theories is driven by a desire to identify and understand potential threats, then we should expect interest in conspiracy theories to be associated with higher morbid curiosity.
To investigate this relationship we performed Three studies . In each study there were different groups of participants, with a close to equal distribution of genders. The first study examined the question: Is morbid curiosity associated with stronger belief in conspiracy theories? Through The morbid curiosity scale and a ladder The generic conspiratorial beliefs , we found that the more morbidly curious people were, the higher their overall belief in conspiracy theories.
In psychology, morbid curiosity describes an increased interest in learning about threatening or dangerous situations. It can be measured using The morbid curiosity scale , which gives a rating for general morbid curiosity, and curiosity in four areas: minds of dangerous people, violence, paranormal danger, and desecration of the body. Violence is when you are curious about the action itself (such as a boxing match). Bodily harm is curiosity about the results of violence (like going to a surgical museum).
Younger people tend to be More morbidly curious , but there is no tendency for a large gap between the sexes, if any.
In the second study, we tested whether the relationship between morbid curiosity and interest in conspiracy theories is driven by people's threat perception. We invited people to rate how threatening they felt about several explanations for events. The events included both mainstream and conspiratorial explanations for the same, such as whether airplane trails are water vapor, or harmful "camtrails". We found that the higher people's morbid curiosity, the higher they perceived the threat of conspiratorial explanations.
In the final study, we investigated whether morbid curiosity increases the tendency to seek conspiracy theories as explanations for events. We presented people with a series of pairs of descriptions, and asked them to choose which description of the pair they would like to learn more about.
Some were morbid and non-morbid pairings, such as seeing a picture of a man who killed his girlfriend and ate her, or a picture of a man who saved his friend from drowning. Others were pairs of conspiratorial and mainstream explanations of the same event, such as The sinking of the Titanic - Because she hit the iceberg, as opposed to a deliberate sinking as part of an insurance fraud.
We found that the more morbidly curious people are about their choices (such as choosing to view a picture of the man who killed his girlfriend), the more likely they are to be interested in conspiracy explanations.
Across these three studies, morbidly curious people were more likely to have general conspiracy beliefs, perceive conspiracy theories as more threatening, and show a stronger interest in learning more about conspiracy explanations. In all three, the area of morbid curiosity most strongly associated with interest in conspiracy theories was "minds of dangerous people."
Why are people's minds dangerous? Previous studies have shown that in general people are particularly drawn to stories on social relations and threats . But the hostile groups associated with conspiracy theories may have a particularly strong appeal to humans.
Hostile groups of other people have been around for a long time A threat to humans. Groupthink appeared early in evolution of homo sapiens . While most primate aggression is reactive, the evolution of language in humans about 300,000 years ago allowed our aggression to be planned and coordinated More, as well Deceptive and conspiratorial . This means that humans should be curious about the intentions of potentially dangerous people. Although curiosity can be useful, sensitivity to threat explanations, such as conspiracy theories, can lead people to assume that others have dangerous motives when they do not.
Understanding events in our complex, modern world can be challenging, and may lead us to be alert to potential threats, using our ancient morbid curiosity. A morbid curiosity is not inherently bad, but an increased interest in learning about the dangers presented in conspiracy theories can reinforce beliefs that the world is a dangerous place. This can create a feedback loop that only increases the anxiety, pushing people further and further down the slope of conspiracy theories.
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