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Why Are the UN's Black Helicopters Targeting Me?

How conspiracy theories may flourish in an environment of informational stress.

Key points

  • People believe in conspiracy theories out of a need for understanding and security.
  • Information overload boosts stress and reduces one's capacity to filter data.
  • Belief in simplistic theories can be a reaction to data overload.
Fumiste Studios / used with permission
Source: Fumiste Studios / used with permission

Global warming is a Deep State hoax. The Democratic Party is run by a cabal of pizza-touting pedophiles. COVID vaccines contain chips that subconciously force you to buy Microsoft. The 2020 election was fraudulently stolen by Joe Biden's minions. The Apollo 11 "moon landing" was actually filmed on a soundstage in Houston. The September 11th, 2001 attack was secretly planned by the CIA. Black helicopters sent by the United Nations are tracking you, today.

All of the above conspiracy theories are demonstrably false, yet millions continue to believe them. A post on Psychology Today lists three core reasons an individual might prefer such baroque theories over facts and the advice of professionals. First, from a desire for understanding and certainty; second, a desire for control and security; finally, a longing for a positive self-image. All of these desires and needs are understandable and to varying degrees shared by most humans. But some argue that another factor makes conspiracy theories attractive: the impossibility of filtering the increasing amounts of information flooding us daily via electronic media.

Memory and the effects of cognitive overload

Memory, in terms of effort, is more an act of filtering-out than retaining information. Our senses bring in roughly 11 million bits of data every second, of which we reject almost all, retaining less than 50. [1] The huge amount of extra information instantly available (and constantly updated) through electronic channels also greatly exceeds our capacity to rationally filter it in order to hold and use what makes sense to us.

Various studies show that information (or cognitive) overload generates traits similar to attention-deficit disorder, and even a lowering of IQ scores by up to 10 points among knowledge workers. [2] The researcher Linda Stone labels resulting behavior "continuous partial attention." Most tellingly perhaps, information overload has been shown to boost levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.

Increased stress and reduced filtering

In a previous post, I've cited studies demonstrating that stress activates fear centers in the brain at the expense of the parts that navigate and plan. It's no stretch to posit that increased stress and reduced filtering on the one hand, and a desire for understanding, certainty, control and security on the other, will make simplistic explanations (black helicopters, Deep State plots) both emotionally and intellectually easier to accept; simultaneously, they make more complex, verifiably sourced, rational arguments harder to access.

As one report put it, in reference to the COVID vaccine theories: "Merely arguing louder that vaccines are safe and effective won’t work for the time-poor who turn to conspiracy thinking to quiet the informational din. People who opt for conspiracy explanations clearly have the capacity to understand reasoning about vaccination ... Instead, the conspiracy mindset tells them which information to block" (my italics). [3]

Interestingly, a recent study does not prove a direct correlation between the advent of pervasive electronic media and a rise in conspiracy theories, even though such theories are almost universally believed to be on the rise. What might explain that apparent contradiction—and what has not yet been scientifically examined—is that the intensity of conspiracy beliefs, and the concomitant polarization gap between those who believe in them and those who don't, are having increasingly profound effects on American society. Amid a social climate in which a former president, and leading contender for the Republican nomination in 2024, has vociferously espoused several such conspiracy theories (vaccines cause autism, climate change as hoax, and the "stolen" 2020 election), it is vital to continue researching why false theories attract so many—and just how a person can craft the time and security in her or his own life to filter out the lies.


[1] The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size, Tor Nøretranders, Viking, 1998



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