Question (non-rhetorical): Do you think that Conspiracy Theories, as explanations, simplify otherwise complex world events?I’m at a bit of a loss with this notion; on one level I can see why people would believe that positing a Conspiracy Theory reduces the complexity of historical and social processes down to an almost cheap formula, yet I also have the intuition that many Conspiracy Theories make the world events more, not less, complex.Whatever the case, a study at the New Mexico State University sometime in the late nineties (Beliefs in Conspiracies, Marina Abalakina-Paap, Walter G. Stephan, Traci Craig and W. Larry Gregory in â€˜Political Psychology,â€™ Blackwell Publishers, Vol. 20, No. 3, 1999) dismissed the notion that people believe in Conspiracy Theories because they provide simplified explanations of complex events. Well, the study claims to dismiss the notion. On one page they boldly say:p. 637 – â€˜This study used canonical correlation to examine the relationship of 11 individual difference variables to two measures of beliefs in conspiracies. … These findings support the idea that beliefs in conspiracies are related to feelings of alienation, powerlessness, hostility, and being disadvantaged. There was no support for the idea that people believe in conspiracies because they provide simplified explanations of complex events.â€™Along with the following claim:p. 644 – â€˜The hypotheses that suggested that beliefs in conspiracy theories would be associated with distrust of authority,hostility,feeling powerless,and being unfairly disadvantaged all found support in the results. However, the idea that beliefs inconspiracies or attitudes toward the existence of conspiracies are related to a needto seek simple explanations for complex events was not supported in this study.â€™Yet in the conclusion the authors are more modest:p. 646 – â€˜…we found little support for one of the commonly cited reasons that people subscribe to conspiracy theories (i.e., to provide simple explanations for complex events).â€™Now I might be over-reading the situation, but ‘no support,’ ‘not supported’ and ‘little support’ are not exactly the same thing. Unfortunately, whilst the report is quite detailed on what they do think to be the motivational factors for belief in Conspiracy Theories (alienation, authoritarianism, belonging to a minority, low trust levels and those who score highly on external locus of control (thinking that control of situations is above or beyond you)) it says nothing more than that which I have quoted on the notion of simplification.The report looks at two related notions of Conspiracy Theory belief; belief in specific Conspiracy Theories and Conspiracy Theories in general. Whilst you need the latter to the have the former you don’t need the former to have the latter in that you can believe in the possibility of Conspiracy Theories and yet not be convinced by any of the theories on offer. It is useful to disambiguate that notion; many people dismiss Conspiracy Theories due to specific examples (such as ‘Elvis is still alive’) and forget that a generic belief in Conspiracies is most likely rational. Conspiracies do happen; the Trotsky Trials, the Northern Ireland situation (I’m thinking specifically of the British Government arming and training terrorists whilst denying that they were) and most of the Henry VIII debacle.I do wonder whether the Simplification Hypothesis applies to the general belief in Conspiracy Theories, though. If I take a specific conspiracy, such as the belief that the American Government conspired to kill JFK I think that this explanation of the event is much more complex than the theory that Oswald acted alone. Then again, it all rather depends on what you consider complexity to be. If complexity is accidents, unintended results and competing purposes then perhaps the Lonenut Theory is more complex; the shot was hard, the likelihood that Kennedy would take the route low (JFK wasn’t meant to take that road so Oswald would have had to have acted quickly to set himself up) and so forth. The conspiracy version may well simplify the event because JFK’s death becomes over-determined.The general belief in Conspiracy Theories, however, I can see leading to sometimes overly simple explanations. If you tend to posit Conspiracy Theories then you might be inclined to dismiss horrendously complex official explanations and suspect something smaller and simpler as being the real reason behind it. I’m not entirely convinced, but it’s a start to a thought that could become part of a chapter (or, more likely, end up as a footnote I later excise).That’s enough of me; what do you think?