Belief in conspiracies tied to inferior critical thinking skills, but don’t be enough

In a time of disaster, where more people than ever can find an audience online, conspiracy theories seem to be getting more and more outrageous by the day. We are also more inclined to believe such things under increased stress, which is unfortunate given how damaging many of these ideas are to our democracies and each other.

Conspiracy theories kill people.

Some conspiracy theorists pride themselves on being “critical free thinkers”, but a new study showing a trend between inferior critical thinking skills and an increased belief in conspiracy theory suggests that this may not be the case.

“Conspiracy theories refer to attempts to explain the ultimate cause of an important event (social, political, climatic, etc.), by accusing a hidden coalition of people or organizations perceived to be malicious and powerful of to have secretly planned and implemented these events “, they explain. Psychologist from Paris Nanterre University Anthony Lantian and his team in their paper.

In two studies, researchers assessed the critical thinking skills of 338 undergraduate students using a French version of the Ennis-Weir Critical Thinking Essay. They then noted the students’ tendencies towards conspiracy beliefs and their personal assessments of their own critical thinking skills.

Critical Thinking – the goal analysis and assessment of a situation – requires a set of cognitive skills. These included the ability to discern relevant and irrelevant information, to think systematically, to see other perspectives, to recognize and avoid logical errors, to look beyond the obvious, to be aware and to avoid prejudices and to change their mind in light of new evidence.

“The more people believe in conspiracy theories, the less they pass a critical thinking ability test,” Lantian said. says Eric Dolan from PsyPost. “This test is characterized by an open format highlighting several areas of critical thinking ability in the context of argumentation.”

Before anyone becomes superior and to blame on this matter, we have to keep in mind that some people may not have had the opportunity to learn these skills. That’s not to say they’re less intelligent, just that their lives haven’t taken them on the path of learning critical thinking skills yet. But It’s never too late to learn.

Researchers found no evidence of superior (or inferior) subjective critical thinking ability (as opposed to that assessed more objectively by the test) among those who strongly subscribe to conspiracy theories.

“This is not in keeping with the cliché of conspiracy theorists who see themselves as critical thinkers,” Lantian said. mentionned.

All this is not to say that those with a high critical mind cannot be trained to believe things that do not necessarily correspond to reality, either. The way our thinking is wired as compulsory social cash makes us very vulnerable to believing those we identify with as part of our own cultural group – it doesn’t matter how much education we had that boosts science literacy.

Confidence plays a huge role in who we believe in; we also tend to believe that each of us is above average at spotting misinformation (which cannot be true!).

The researchers also linked this need to feel special to a greater belief in conspiracies.

Lantian and his team point out that while their study suggests that critical thinking reduces people’s chances of believing unfounded conspiracy theories, the results do not determine whether these skills can help people spot real conspiracies.

Additionally, the uniformity of their sample population (all French-speaking undergraduates) means that these results may not necessarily accurately reflect society as a whole, and the researchers also did not demonstrate a relationship. causal.

however, Previous search also suggested that more educated people are less prone to conspiratorial beliefs. Another study, More precisely designed by Yale University psychologist Dan Kahan and his team to unravel prejudices within the group’s levels of understanding, found similar results: Participants who scored higher in understanding science – which requires critical thinking skills – had higher scores in independent thinking.

Kahan and his colleagues also discovered that curiosity can play an incredibly powerful role in the fight against prejudices within the group by getting people to consume “a more information rich diet”.

Lantian and his team conclude in their article that “the ability to think critically could help individuals search for conflicting evidence rather than blindly trusting a conspiracy theory as long as it challenges an established version.”

They hope this and other research on the topic will help develop better ways to teach more people these vital skills. Critical thinking, as well as the stimulation of curiosity and a sense of belonging and community to counteract the forces of cultural prejudices, can help us bring each other closer to reality.

This research was published in Applied Cognitive Psychology.

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