This inspired some research and some quotes from
The truth isn't out thereDr Raj Persaud and Professor Adrian Furnham
A recent study of almost 1,000 South Africans found that belief in the conspiracy theory that AIDS was introduced as part of a white genocidal population control measure, against black people, was one of the strongest predictors of poorer take up of HIV testing, prevention and care. Public Health experts could also argue that conspiracy theories around the MMR vaccine contributed to a recent decline in take up and subsequent child deaths here in the UK.
..The psychological research is also hinting that a vicious cycle seems to be ignited by conspiracy theories - more disillusionment with authority is fostered, which in turn produces heightened scepticism of official versions of events, which then infects conspiracy thinking across other domains of your life.
...Patrick Leman, a psychologist at Royal Holloway College, found we are more likely to believe in a conspiracy if a presidential assassination is successful as opposed to a close miss. This might suggest it's cognitively too stressful to conceive of world events as the outcome from often random interactions of a large number of forces. It's simpler to imagine everything’s been planned. Conspiracy theories also seem to abound whenever there is incomplete information. It's a kind of 'fill in the blanks' our brains naturally do.
..Perhaps the reason paranoia, which lies at the heart of conspiracy reasoning, has survived, and is even genetically wired into us, is because it has some ancient evolutionary and survival benefit. We know from neuroscience research that the brain detects and processes negative facial expressions in others, faster and more efficiently, than it does positive emotions. It seems we are programmed to detect social threat over and above social support. Any small string we notice left untied is naturally, therefore, used to construct a negative edifice. It might be that it's better in the longer term to assume 'they' are out to get you, even if you are wrong most of the time, because of the massive benefits in getting it right, just once.
Still one important lesson from all this reading is that, whether it is because of the law of averages or intuitive pattern recognition, some people do see deeper meanings in things. The best example is the Watergate break-in, the determination of two journalists went on to prove that a minor burglary had in fact ties to the highest office of the land.
On the other hand how does one challenge Conspiracy theories? From my own converations with people, i think the only cases where i successfully challenged them was when I did not focus on what they said BUT why they said it.
It was not challenging the case of OBL being killed in Tora Bora but why did they think that in the first place. When you deconstruct the theory in its entirety you have more success then challenging one element of it...obviously that depends if you can be bothered!