The culture of conspiracy theories

One-third of Americans still believe that global warming is a hoax. Half believe that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone in the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

These are powerful memes. Ideas that continue to spread throughout the culture like a virus.

So, how does a conspiracy theory spread?

Two reasons: Taxonomy and System Justification Theory.

It turns out, humans like to sort things. They sort people, ideas, jobs, skills…everything. We sort everything into boxes.

This is how we make sense of the world since it is impossible to interpret all the information coming in. We create shortcuts.

The problem is that we make ideas fit boxes. We classify them in boxes they don’t belong.

We sort information to fit the narrative of how we see the world. And then we tell that story. We live that story. Then sort the culture to find people like us who share the same beliefs.

Once we find the others, we will defend that status-quo. Even if the narrative no longer serves our self-interest, we will continue to misbehave. We will justify and go to great lengths to protect our cognitive bias.

Paradoxically, greater transparency isn’t the answer. More information does not have any effect on people with conspiracy theories.


Because of confirmation bias, in-group bias and sunk cost fallacy.

All stories we tell.

We are story-driven people. Change the culture means changing the stories we tell.

HT Karen, Robbie and Aleksandra for their incredible research on conspiracy theories. Worth reading through.