Explanatory Virtues and Belief in Conspiracy Theories

AbstractConspiracy theories are "alternative" explanations of well-understood events or phenomena. What makes them attractive explanations to so many people? We investigate whether people ascribe characteristics typical of good explanations to conspiracy theories and whether they are perceived as more appealing explanations when they are articulated as a refutation of the official version of events. In two experiments, participants read explanations of four conspiracy theories and rated them along six dimensions of explanatory quality. We find that some explanatory virtues are ascribed to conspiracy theories even by people who do not believe the conspiracy. Contrary to our predictions, we also find that framing a conspiracy as a refutation did not generally elicit higher ascriptions of explanatory virtues. These results suggest that explanatory considerations may play a more central role in conspiracist beliefs than was previously thought.

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