Dispelling the fiction: GGC professor sheds light on the psychology of conspiracies

Dr. David Ludden

Dr. David Ludden 

By Collin Elder, Class of 2023

Conspiracy theories are wildly popular on the internet. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter swarm with pages discussing unproven assertions presented as fact. David Ludden, Ph.D. offers insight into how and why these ideas have taken hold of such strongly vocal groups. 

Shaped from childhood

Ludden, professor of psychology at Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC), explains that the way individuals think may stem from how they were raised. Something as simple as the news programs our parents watched can shape how we think and feel.  

“For example, someone who grew up watching CNN will likely have different opinions from someone who watched FOX,” he said.

Another example, Ludden said, are those whose parents hold stong religious beliefs. Children raised in a religious household may hold different views from those who did not.

One of the more popular genres of conspiracy theories circulates around the COVID-19 virus. Ludden, who operates a popular blog focusing on the linguistics of relationships and the complex interactions of mind and matter, discusses a potential reason why these theories are so popular.

Reinforcing one’s beliefs

“Confirmation bias plays a role,” he said. “We look for information that supports our own beliefs.”

Confirmation bias is how we fill in the blanks. It’s a reaction to things we don’t understand or don’t mold well into our world view. People who aren’t comfortable getting vaccinated may not do so because of a mistrust of the medical industry. So they create, perpetuate or share stories that paint a poor light on vaccinations. Subconsciously, confirmation bias causes us to accept ideas confirming our existing beliefs, while making us resistant to conflicting information.

Instinct vs. logic

Ludden explains that we, as humans, are social creatures. We’re not inherently logical or rational creatures. Instead, we rely on our social skills and instincts to help shape how we see the world. These gut reactions are not rational. People might not even realize they react the way they do, as it’s just natural for them.

“Rational thinking is an intentional process—it doesn’t come automatically,” Ludden said. “It’s something that you have to practice.”

An example of this might be followers of the “faked moon landing” conspiracy theories. It’s not that they don’t think it’s possible to fly to the moon. It’s just that they’re so distrustful of the government and NASA because of the billions of dollars invested in the program, that they can’t agree with the outcome. They’re more reliant on instinct, intuition and gut reaction, which has uniformly shaped their lives and is more familiar to them.

Whether you believe in a faked moon landing or not, one thing is clear to Ludden, people flock to familiarity.

Collin Elder is a student assistant with the GGC Public Relations team.

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