“In this case, conspiracy theories can be like emotional poultices,” says Joseph Parent, a professor of political science at Notre Dame University and Uscinski’s co-author. “You don’t want to blame yourself for things you may lack, so you blame anonymous forces instead.”

Just as important in fostering conspiracies is a desire to be special or different — and that’s a need that cuts across demographic lines. In a study published in May 2017 in the European Journal of Social Psychology, provocatively titled “Too Special to Be Duped,” subjects either took a survey designed to measure their desire for uniqueness or wrote an essay on the importance of independent thought. By significant margins, those who tested high on the need to be special or were primed to feel that way by writing the essay were also more inclined to believe in various conspiracy theories.

“A small part in motivating the endorsement of…irrational beliefs,” the researchers wrote, “is the desire to stick out from the crowd.”