If you believe in these things, you could be a psychopath

Thanks to mascots like Jesse “The Body” Ventura and Alex “gay frogs” Jones,  conspiracy theorists were rarely enjoyed in earnest by the mainstream. 2020 changed that.

Whether we’re talking about the pandemic, the primaries, or police brutality, this year seems to favor the most cynical interpretations. 

Sometimes conspiracy theories are conditioned in an individual or population overtime through prolonged periods of crisis. Other times, the ideation is a product of disruptions correlated with psychological projection and paranoia.

A new study published in the journal Plos One more discreetly posits that odd beliefs/magical thinking, primary psychopathy, and trait Machiavellianism are each associated with a greater likelihood of believing in alternative narratives. 

After reviewing a year’s worth of data on the subject and conducted their own analysis, the researchers discovered a disturbing link between an inherent mistrust and the development of psychosis.

“Belief in conspiracy theories is related to negative societal outcomes such as poor medical decisions and a decrease in prosocial behavior. Given these negative outcomes, researchers have explored predictors of belief in conspiracy theories in an attempt to understand and possibly manage these beliefs, authors, Evita March and Jordan Springer write in the new paper. “In the current study, we explored the utility of personality in predicting belief in conspiracy theories. The aim of the current study was to explore the utility of the odd beliefs/magical thinking subtype of schizotypy, Machiavellianism, grandiose narcissism, vulnerable narcissism, primary psychopathy, and secondary psychopathy in predicting belief in conspiracy theories.”

The researchers tested their hypothesis by recruiting 230 subjects with an average age of 26.

Each was tasked with completing an online questionnaire that assessed their tendency to privilege circular reasoning, magical thinking, and conspiracies over generally accepted assertions. 

Participants were then asked to complete the MACH-IV test which measures  Machiavellianism, and the Generic Conspiracist Beliefs Scale which requires its respondents to rate their agreement with items like, “The government is involved in the murder of innocent citizens and/or well-known public figures, and keeps this a secret” via a 10-point scale.

Traits like manipulation, exploitation, and psychopathy were routinely linked to high marks on The Generic Conspiracist Beliefs Scale. This means conspiracy ideations might be co-parented by delusions and a need for dominance; a desire to control narratives in any context. 

 A mindset navigated by strategic, exploitative tendencies will always interpret human nature unfavorably. 

“The lack of utility of secondary psychopathy to predict belief in conspiracy theories suggests that such beliefs are less associated with impulsivity and emotional reactivity and may underpin a careful, structured, and detached interpersonal style where relations with others are based on dominance and manipulation,” the authors continued. 

While there are certain things that our government hides from the public, most of these things likely have to do with bureaucratic yellow tape affairs.  This isn’t to say establishment secrets aren’t sinister, but merely to point out that history’s gotcha moments don’t often rise above generic corruption. 

In other words, if the government was capable of keeping Aliens a secret, they would surely be able to cover up sex scandals, instances of fraud, and recordings revealing their racism, sexism, and homophobia. 

In some ways believing The COVID-19 Crisis was orchestrated in a lab somewhere by a Bond villain, or that horrific tragedies like Sandy Hook was actually a plot constructed to wound gun lobbyists is more comforting than accepting the fact that bad things happen all the time at random to citizens governed by officials who only value their input during ballot seasons. 

It is unwise to trust any source on principle, but it might be just as unwise to distrust Occam’s Razor when it indicates the least exciting outcome. 

Permitting such a bloodless appraisal of existence also has the added effect of making one feel small and powerless, too feelings narcissists reject wholesale. 

“These individuals believe other people to be foolish and easily manipulated; whereas they themselves are not so easily manipulated and know the truth,” the authors concluded.