New research indicates that in situations in which a person is not in control, they're more likely to spot patterns where none exist, see illusions, and believe in conspiracy theories. In a series of experiments, researchers created situations in which people had less control over their situation, and then tested how likely the participants were to see imaginary images embedded in snowy pictures. The researchers also had participants write about either a situation in which they had control, or a situation in which they didn't, and then presented stories involving strange coincidences. People who had written about a situation in which they were not in control were more likely to draw non-existent connections between the coincidences, the researchers found.
"People see false patterns in all types of data, imagining trends in stock markets, seeing faces in static, and detecting conspiracies between acquaintances. This suggests that lacking control leads to a visceral need for order – even imaginary order," said Jennifer Whitson, one of the authors of the report. We'll talk with her about the finding and what it means.
Produced by Charles Bergquist, Director and Contributing Producer