The popularity of conspiracy theories of presidential assassination: A Bayesian analysis

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Abstract

Journalist T. Bethell (1975) advanced the hypothesis that conspiracy explanations of presidential assassination are popular because people have an irrational need to explain big and important events with proportionately big and important causes. This is a species of consistency hypothesis and clearly predicts that a shot that kills a president is more likely than a miss to be attributed to a conspiracy. Four studies with 80 undergraduate Ss are reported that support this prediction. Three of the studies provided a check on whether conspiracy was overly favored, in the case of successful assassination, by comparison with the normative Bayesian formulation. No evidence of this kind of departure from rationality was found. It appears that people associate conspiracy with successful assassination, not because of any kind of special need for proportionality of cause and effect, but because of a belief that conspiracies are more effective and successful than lone assassins. (9 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved)

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