A Psychology Today article on conspiracy theories triggered my thinking on this and I thought it an intriguing topic for today. Did Lee Harvey Oswald really assassinate President Kennedy independently? Are aliens hidden in Area 51?

I am sure that you have encountered someone who was certain that another was out to get them…a friend certain that a co-worker was determined to make them look bad or a parent, in the midst of a divorce, certain that their co-parent was determined to destroy their relationship with their children…maybe so yet maybe not.

How is it that such conspiracy theories, both big and small, perpetuate even when evidence and logic point otherwise?

One aspect is ambiguity. When something is uncertain, creating a story to provide certainty is often easier than living within the realm of the unknown. It is easier to think in black and white terms, rather than shades of gray.

Another aspect is what mental health professionals call a cognitive bias. We all view reality through our subjective lens, meaning that reality is often not reality at all, only our filtering of reality through this subjective lens (i.e. our perceptions, which are influenced by our history and experiences). When we believe something to be “true” we often pay more attention to things that validated this “truth” while ignoring or discounting things that are contradictory. In addition, we tend to make assumptions and interpret actions in ways that support, rather than discredit, our perceptions.

So when you find yourself making an assumption, take a moment to breathe and ask yourself could there be another explanation. Ask what makes you so certain that your perceptions are accurate. At times, your perceptions may be spot on yet asking such questions can help you more objectively evaluate your biases and quite possibly avoid becoming a conspiracy theorist (although face it, we all know aliens are in Area 51).

“The complete lack of evidence is the surest sign that the conspiracy is working.” – Unknown