Conspiracy theories will emerge whether there is an explanation for the event or not, a study has found.
Reporting their findings on the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, researchers from the University of Kent were looking to find out why conspiracy theories flourish even when there is no official explanation to react against.
Following the 9/11 bombings, many conspiracy theories emerged, the most popular of which being that the collapse of the Twin Towers was the result of a controlled explosion. Another is that the US government allowed the attacks to take place, while others said the event was orchestrated to justify the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
However, these reactions came following an official explanation from authorities – that al-Qaida had placed suicide bombers on board to hijack the planes and target the New York monuments.
In comparison, the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which vanished on 8 March this year, has no official explanation. Authorities do not know what happened to the aircraft or those on board, but believe it crashed somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean.
Despite this vague theory, conspiracy theories still flourished. Some said the Illuminati were involved, while others say MH370 and MH17 – the plane shot down over the Ukraine – were the same aircraft.
Other popular conspiracy theories suggest that the plane was seized by terrorists, or that it was shot down by accident during a military exercise.
Presenting her work at the British Psychological Society's Social Psychology Section in Canterbury, Karen Douglas said she asked 250 participants to rate their agreement in a range of conspiracy theories about MH370.
She also asked them about well-known conspiracy theories about 9/11 and the death of Princess Diana.
"We expected that people who believe in MH370 conspiracy theories would also believe in other well-known conspiracy theories," she said.
"However, we hypothesised that whilst variables such as paranoia, powerlessness and mistrust would predict beliefs in well-known conspiracy theories, variables such as the need for cognitive closure and belief in an unjust world may instead predict endorsement of MH370 conspiracy theories, where no official explanation exists."
Finding showed people will believe in conspiracy theories, even when there is nothing to react against. Instead they appear to form from a "self-sustaining world view composed of a network of mutually supported beliefs", a statement said. "They do not necessarily need an official explanation to react against."
Douglas added: "Results confirmed that people who believe in MH370 conspiracy theories also endorse well-known conspiracy theories. However, the psychological predictors of conspiracy beliefs may be the same whether an official explanation has been established or not."