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Conspiracy theories - a brief introduction

Conspiracy theories have existed for hundreds of years, and are a natural and common human phenomenon. But what is the background for these conspiratorial beliefs, and what do they say about the society they exist in?

Screenshot from a digital document with the logo of the Triple Knight Order and a St. George's Cross. Headline "2083 - A European Declaration of Independence". Subtitle "De Laude Novae Militae", "by Andrew Berwick, London UK, 2011".
Screenshot of the front page of the compendium, prepared by Anders Behring Breivik

Conspiracy theories are beliefs that some, usually an elite, a group of people or an institution, are involved in a conspiracy to achieve a goal. The goal is destructive to society and is therefore kept hidden. Conspiracy theorists are often more concerned with undermining official explanations by spreading mistrust than proving their own theory.

Some individuals or groups are more susceptible to believing in conspiracy theories. The popularity of conspiratorial beliefs must also be seen in the context of trends in society around those to whom it applies. It may, for example, be about whether there is increased hostility or skepticism towards one religious group during a period, or whether the authorities in a country have more or less trust. Crises and times characterized by great uncertainty often provide fertile ground for conspiracy thinking.

At the same time, it is also a common human trait to be critical of one’s surroundings and to look for patterns and connections. This is also about our innate ability to be aware of dangers.

Some conspiracy theories can perhaps be said to be more harmless - such as those that claim that Elvis is alive or that the earth is flat. Other conspiracy theories can be very dangerous, especially those that point to a group of people as enemies. The Holocaust is an example of what extensive conspiracy theories about a religious group - the Jews - can lead to. Belief in conspiracy theories can lead to lower trust in democracy, and for some, an increased likelihood of thinking that violence can be justified. Conspiracy theories often talk about an acute crisis situation that requires immediate action. If a person feels called by this call, it can contribute to a so-called radicalization process, where a person increasingly thinks that it is okay and even good to use violence to achieve a political, ideological or religious goal.

It is not necessarily complete and clearly defined conspiracy theories that we see most often in everyday life, but rather what researchers Døving, Emberland and Dyrendal call conspiracy talk. This involves hints, jokes, memes and expressions that point to conspiracy theories without these being mentioned clearly.


  • Dyrendahl, A. & Emberland, T. (2019). Hva er konspirasjonsteorier. Universitetsforlaget.