Special Report: Our fascination with conspiracy theories - FOX Carolina 21

Special Report: Our fascination with conspiracy theories

Posted: Updated:
(FOX Carolina)/April 30, 2018 (FOX Carolina)/April 30, 2018
CLEMSON, SC (FOX Carolina) -

There's a class on the campus of Clemson University, that's hard to get into.  In fact, we’re told, it fills up in minutes sometimes.

It's an honors seminar, called "Religion, Cults, Secret Societies and Conspiracy Theories.” And with a name like that, students are all in.

Natalie Pellizzi is a senior at Clemson, and is currently taking the class. 

“Conspiracy, as we defined it, is when two or more people are conspiring with a secret plan to do something that most often is criminal.  It's not always people you'd think that were trying to do something bad, but when they get carried away, they do something that's probably not for the greater good, but for their own benefit.”

Dr. Peter Cohen teaches the class.  He said three years ago, he presented the idea for the class to Clemson University, and it's taken off since then.

“The course basically takes a look at the phenomenon of cults, secret societies and different groups and conspiracy theories and how they're manifested, how they're created, the influence they have on people and the good and the bad.”

Dr. Cohen explains why conspiracy theories can take hold with such a tight grip.

“Let’s put it this way, the hardest thing is not to prove something, it's to disprove it.”

Dr. Cohen says, it shouldn't surprise us that there are so many theories out there, especially when the public doesn't always get the full story.  He gives the example of Area 51 in Nevada.

“It is there, it is secret, there are people guarding it, there are sensors in the road, you can be arrested, you can be shot.  Now the question is, what's beyond it.  Are there aliens in warehouses?  I would tend to doubt it, but we do know that experimental aircraft has been tested there.”

We also spoke with Dr. Brittany Rudy, a psychologist in Greenville who specializes in anxiety disorders. She says she's seen patients get caught up in conspiracy theories, and it can boil down to our natural "need to know" instinct.

“It largely hinges on feelings of uncertainty.  We know that as a species, humans have a really hard time with the not knowing and it causes us a great deal of anxiety to not understand something, not know something or have a reason why.”

Dr. Rudy says it's also about a connection to other people.  And while it's not inherently a bad thing, it can be taken to an unhealthy level.

“We want to make sure we are just taking time to consider the facts, that we're taking time to understand there are multiple perspectives as well as recognizing that we may have to accept that there may not be a good explanation for something, and then we just have to move forward.”

Dr. Cohen adds, sometimes, secrets are necessary in society, even if conspiracy theories develop as a result.

“I truly think when it comes to some of our decisions on high, above the military, we give out too much info about troop movement, days we're going to be out of country, whatever.  There's got to be secrets because of the enemy knowing things.”  He added,  “There are certain things you have to, obviously not have as a conspiracy theory, but have secrets kept.”

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