- Title Pages
- 1 Down the Rabbit Hole We Go!
- 2 The History of Conspiracy Theory Research
- Section I What Is a Conspiracy Theory?
- 3 What We Mean When We Say “Conspiracy Theory”
- 4 Conspiracy Theory
- 5 Media Marginalization of Racial Minorities
- 6 Conspiracy Theories and Philosophy
- Section II How Do Conspiracy Theorists and Non-Conspiracy Theorists Interact?
- 7 On the Democratic Problem of Conspiracy Politics
- 8 The Politics of Disruption
- 9 Learning about Conspiracy Theories
- 10 In Whose Hands the Future?
- 11 Conspiracy Theory Phobia
- 12 Conspiracy Thinking, Tolerance, and Democracy
- Section III Are Conspiracy Theories “Anti-Science”?
- 13 Don’t Trust the Scientists! Rejecting the Scientific Consensus “Conspiracy”
- 14 Conspiratorial Thinking and Dueling Fact Perceptions
- 15 The Conspiracy Theory Pyramid Scheme
- Section IV What Is the Psychology of Conspiracy Theorizing?
- 16 Conspiracy Theory Psychology
- 17 Conspiracy Rumor Psychology
- 18 The Truth Is Around Here Somewhere
- Section V What Do Conspiracy Theories Look Like in the United States?
- 19 Conspiracy Theories in U.S. History
- 20 Polls, Plots, and Party Politics
- 21 How Conspiracy Theories Spread
- Section VI What Do Conspiracy Theories Look Like Around the World?
- 22 Who Believes in Conspiracy Theories in Great Britain and Europe?
- 23 Why the Powerful (in Weak States) Prefer Conspiracy Theories
- 24 Conspiracy Theories in Post-Soviet Russia
- 25 The Collective Conspiracy Mentality in Poland
- 26 The Conspiratorial Style in Turkish Politics
- 27 The Hidden and the Revealed
- Section VII How Should We Live with Conspiracy Theories?
- 28 Conspiracy Theories and Religion
- 29 The Credulity of Conspiracy Theorists
- 30 Empowerment as a Tool to Reduce Belief in Conspiracy Theories
- 31 Conspiracy Theories for Journalists
How Conspiracy Theories Spread
How Conspiracy Theories Spread
- (p.319) 21 How Conspiracy Theories Spread
- Conspiracy Theories and the People Who Believe Them
Matthew D. Atkinson
- Oxford University Press
Why do some ideas of uncertain merit, like conspiracy theories, gain traction and spread through society? To date, conspiracy theory scholarship primarily focuses on thick description, generates case-specific hypotheses, and answers this question on an ad hoc basis. To take the next step in terms of scientific progress, the conspiracy theory literature must develop explanations that generalize across cases. To the extent that scholars have offered a more general explanation, they point to a formal theory called herd behavior, which was designed to explain why people believe ideas in the absence of much evidence. The herd behavior model has been advanced as a matter of convenience rather than as a result of critical assessment about the mechanisms in play. But it’s not the only mechanism by which a dubious ideas might spread and, furthermore, it fails to fit the facts of many cases where conspiracy theories gain traction. We consider how three other major political science explanations of opinion formation can be applied to conspiracy theories and provide a foundation for conspiracy theory researchers interested in moving from the scholarly conversation from description to explanation.
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