Taylor Swift, Joe Biden and what conspiracy theories say about us – USA TODAY

Is Taylor Swift a covert political asset intended to sway the outcome of the 2024 presidential election? Of course not. So why do a large swath of Americans think she is?
According to a survey released Feb. 14 by Monmouth University, nearly one fifth of Americans believe a conspiracy theory that the singer-songwriter is part of a plot to boost President Joe Biden as he seeks another term in office. The survey found 18% of Americans “think that a covert government effort for Taylor Swift to help Joe Biden win the presidential election actually exists,” according to the university.
This and other conspiracy theories may sound ridiculous, but experts say they highlight people’s anxieties regarding the unknown, as well as their feelings of powerlessness amid political and global turmoil.
“Human brains like to understand things, and they like to have predictability, and they like to have control over their environment,” psychotherapist Stephanie Sarkis says. “When you have perceived threats in your environment, a conspiracy theory can help you make sense of your distress.”
In recent weeks, conspiracy theories have swirled around the Grammy Award winner, with some conservative commentators and other prominent Republicans speculating Swift is some sort of Pentagon plant, ginned up by liberal forces while also boosting the fortunes of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Among the survey respondents who said they believe the Swift conspiracy theory, 71% identify with or generally lean toward the Republican Party, and 83% said they plan to support former President Donald Trump in 2024’s general election.
People of all political beliefs, however, can fall for conspiracy theories. A 2019 Ipsos survey of online users found 86% admitted falling for “fake news” at least once, and a 2014 study found roughly half of Americans believe at least one conspiracy theory in any given year.
“We are all susceptible,” Dolores Albarracin, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who studies attitudes, communication and behavior, previously told USA TODAY. “Because we cannot physically verify many of our beliefs – is the Earth round? – we need to trust sources and documentation. If we trust trustworthy sources, we are generally safe, although all sources are fallible. If we trust untrustworthy ones, we are in danger.”
Nearly 1 in 5 Americansbelieve Taylor Swift is part of a 2024 plot to help Joe Biden
In addition to wanting to explain away inherent uncertainties about life, people also can be motivated to believe in conspiracy theories out of a desire for community and belonging.
“We tend to want to identify with a community, and so, if you believe in a conspiracy theory, there’s usually a community that also supports that,” Sarkis says. “If you are in a community that also believes that, you find commonalities with people, and you find some social bonds with people, and that’s a very powerful psychological effect.”
It’s also easy to slip into believing conspiracies when facts don’t seem to support your beliefs. Many people don’t seek out information to get to the truth, but, rather, to confirm what they already think, something called “confirmation bias.” When facts don’t fit one’s bias, a conspiracy theory can fill in the gaps.
The psychology of misinformation:Anyone can fall for ‘fake news,’ conspiracy theories
Not all misinformation rises to the level of a conspiracy theory, and it’s important to distinguish between the two. According to Albarracin, misinformation merely states something inaccurate, while a conspiracy theory seeks to discredit information that could disprove the theory, and, therefore, becomes more difficult to correct.
It’s particularly common for conspiracy theorists to dig in their heels when challenged by loved ones, and many see attacks on the theory as proof the theory is real, Sarkis says.
When engaging with someone who believes a piece of information that’s unsupported by facts, demonstrate a willingness to listen. You can offer to help someone explore their ideas rather than tell them what to believe.
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It can also be more effective to teach people about facts and methods of verification before they succumb to a conspiracy theory in the first place, a strategy called “prebunking.”
“What works best is to prevent the formation of these beliefs,” Albarracin said. “It is easy to introduce a belief but much harder to change it.”
Contributing: Marina Pitofsky and Alia E. Dastagir, USA TODAY
More:Taylor Swift, Travis Kelce and finding happiness and hatred all at once

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