Nothing Happens by Accident, or Does It? A Low Prior for Randomness Does Not Explain Belief in Conspiracy Theories.Psychol Sci 2015; 26(11):1762-70PS
Belief in conspiracy theories has often been associated with a biased perception of randomness, akin to a nothing-happens-by-accident heuristic. Indeed, a low prior for randomness (i.e., believing that randomness is a priori unlikely) could plausibly explain the tendency to believe that a planned deception lies behind many events, as well as the tendency to perceive meaningful information in scattered and irrelevant details; both of these tendencies are traits diagnostic of conspiracist ideation. In three studies, we investigated this hypothesis and failed to find the predicted association between low prior for randomness and conspiracist ideation, even when randomness was explicitly opposed to malevolent human intervention. Conspiracy believers' and nonbelievers' perceptions of randomness were not only indistinguishable from each other but also accurate compared with the normative view arising from the algorithmic information framework. Thus, the motto "nothing happens by accident," taken at face value, does not explain belief in conspiracy theories.