By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
9-11 wasn't really a terrorist attack, the President isn't really an American citizen, and climate science is an elaborate hoax. Or, that is at least what a surprising number of Americans believe. Respond to any of these conspiracy theories with reasons or evidence, and you'll get something like, "Yeah, that is what they want you to believe...and the fact that you and so many other sheep believe it shows just how deep and effective the cover-up has been." It doesn't take long to get frustrated with the circularity of it. But before we simply dismiss these as the ravings of the tin foil hat crowd, it is important for anyone involved in persuading the public -- and that includes litigators -- to understand that the roots of these conspiratorial views can be traced back to a mindset, perhaps even a basic personality dimension, that extends far beyond the lunatic fringes. It is a worldview that may even be sitting in your jury box.
A recent study (Wood & Douglas, 2013) takes a look at the nature of the conspiracist mindset, and contrasts it with it's opposite, a conventionalist mindset, through an analysis of thousands of online discussion comments. The researchers found that the conspiracists were motivated more by the goal of tearing down the official explanation than they were by the goal of offering or supporting an explanation of their own. Apart from the extremes of political views, this points to a tendency we often see in real and mock jurors: Some seem especially prone to reject the "official" story, even when they aren't sure they know what happened instead. Whether that "official" version is offered by the government or by a large institution, there will be a certain number of individuals who are primed to be skeptical and to search for flaws in any version of events offered by those in authority. This post takes a look at the study and what it says about addressing the conspiracists as well as the conventionalists in your jury.