We have been discussing the rising intolerance and violence on college campuses, particularly against conservative speakers. The latest such example can be found at Middlebury College where Professor Allison Stanger was assaulted by protesters and injured after she merely accompanied a controversial speaker to campus. It was a disgraceful but increasingly common scene on our campuses as students fought to prevent others from hearing opposing views or speakers.
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In a recent paper published in Political Psychology by myself from Staffordshire University and Karen Douglas and Robbie Sutton from the University of Kent, we found that conspiracy theories might be a way that people can maintain favourable attitudes towards society when the social system may be under threat. In other words, conspiracy theories may sometimes bolster rather than undermine support for the social status quo when its legitimacy is threatened.
Conspiracy theories are associated with almost every significant social and political event, such as the suggested theory that the U.S. government orchestrated the 9/11 attacks. A similar thread throughout conspiracy narratives is that they point accusing fingers at authority (such as the government). Conspiracy theories single out a small group of perceived wrongdoers who are not representative of society more generally but instead are working against us. Believing in conspiracy theories may, therefore, give people the opportunity to blame the negative…
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