Explanatory virtues and belief in conspiracy theories

Patricia Mirabile, Zachary Horne

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Conspiracy theories are "alternative" explanations of well-understood events or phenomena. What makes them attractive explanations to so many people? We investigate whether people ascribe characteristics typical of good explanations to conspiracy theories and whether they are perceived as more appealing explanations when they are articulated as a refutation of the official version of events. In two experiments, participants read explanations of four conspiracy theories and rated them along six dimensions of explanatory quality. We find that some explanatory virtues are ascribed to conspiracy theories even by people who do not believe the conspiracy. Contrary to our predictions, we also find that framing a conspiracy as a refutation did not generally elicit higher ascriptions of explanatory virtues. These results suggest that explanatory considerations may play a more central role in conspiracist beliefs than was previously thought.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 41st Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society
Place of PublicationMontreal
PublisherCognitive Science Society
ISBN (Print)0991196775
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jul 2019
Externally publishedYes
Event41st Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society - Palais des Congrès de Montréal, Montréal , Canada
Duration: 24 Jul 201927 Jul 2019
Conference number: 41


Conference41st Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society
Abbreviated titleCOGSCI 2019
Internet address


  • explanation
  • conspiracy theories
  • open science

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