Adam Galin­sky ex­plains how eco­nomic un­cer­tainty en­cour­ages peo­ple to fall for con­spir­acy the­o­ries and su­per­sti­tious be­liefs

The Jewish Chronicle - - & Business Finance -

FEEL­ING A lack of con­trol over your life may make you see things that are not there, claims so­cialpsy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor Adam Galin­sky.

Re­search car­ried out by Pro­fes­sor Galin­sky, 39, which has re­cently been pub­lished in the jour­nal Sci­ence, shows that peo­ple who lack con­trol and feel un­cer­tain are much more likely to see false pat­terns in the world and turn to su­per­sti­tions, rit­u­als and con­spir­acy the­o­ries as a way to deal with com­plex or chaotic cir­cum­stances.

A pro­fes­sor at North­west­ern Uni­ver­sity in Illi­nois, he tells Peo­ple: “We found that when peo­ple are put in sit­u­a­tions where they lacked con­trol, they are much more likely to form su­per­sti­tious per­cep­tions, see con­spir­a­cies and even to see fig­ures that don’t ex­ist.”

Par­tic­i­pants in the study were given the same ra­tio of pos­i­tive to neg­a­tive in­for­ma­tion about com­pa­nies on the stock ex­change. Those who had less con­trol over their lives chose to in­vest in firms that did not war­rant it, he says.

“In a volatile en­vi­ron­ment, peo­ple were much more likely to form false cor­re­la­tions. This is not un­like the sit­u­a­tion in the Sec­ond World War, when the Ger­mans were bomb­ing Lon­don and there was a clear pat­tern where peo­ple thought that neigh­bour­hoods that weren’t tar­geted were full of Nazi sym­pa­this­ers, even though sta­tis­ti­cal analy­ses show that the bombs fells at ran­dom.”

He ac­knowl­edges that some peo­ple be­lieve see con­spir­acy the­o­ries be­hind the cur­rent eco­nomic tur­moil. “We saw this with 9/11. Some peo­ple thought Is­rael did it. Some peo­ple thought Amer­ica at­tacked it­self. Prej­u­dices are a form of th­ese pat­terns that peo­ple see.”

Pro­fes­sor Galin­sky has been work­ing on this re­search for the past two years.

What should we be do­ing to main­tain con­trol in tur­bu­lent times? “Re­flect­ing on one’s core val­ues can have a tremendous im­pact on in­creas­ing peo­ple’s gen­eral se­cu­rity, which re­duces a lot of de­fen­sive vibes.”

He adds: “It’s very hard when looking at pat­tern of data to know if there’s truly a cor­re­la­tion. Peo­ple of­ten see cor­re­la­tions that aren’t there and miss cor­re­la­tions that are. So, re­ly­ing not on gut in­stinct, but on some type of mech­a­nism or method when mak­ing an­a­lyt­i­cal de­ci­sions is cru­cial. Gut in­stinct can valu­able but in lim­ited cir­cum­stances.”

Pro­fes­sor Galin­sky is cur­rently on a year’s sab­bat­i­cal, teach­ing at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley.

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