Feeling powerless leads to paranoia

When people feel they have lost control of a situation they are often inclined to use paranoia or superstition as an explanation to establish some control, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science.

"The less control people have over their lives, the more likely they are to try and regain control through mental gymnastics," said Adam Galinsky, a professor of ethics and management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

"Feelings of control are so important to people that a lack of control is inherently threatening," Galinsky said. "While some misperceptions can be bad or lead one astray, they’re extremely common and most likely satisfy a deep and enduring psychological need."

Galinsky and study co-author Jennifer Whitson, a business professor at the University of Texas at Austin, used six experiments in which the test subjects lacked control.

How the study was done
In one experiment the people being tested were asked to look at grainy pictures. Half of the pictures were random dots, while the other half had images barely visible in the grainy background.

While all test subjects identified 95% of the hidden images, the group whose feeling of control had been undermined also 'saw' images in 43% of the pictures that were really random scattered dots.

"People see false patterns in all types of data, imagining trends in stock markets, seeing faces in static, and detecting conspiracies between acquaintances," said Whitson. "This suggests that lacking control leads to a visceral need for order –even imaginary order."

The results were clear, according to a summary of the study: test participants who failed to regain a feeling of control "were more likely to perceive visual images that didn’t exist and to perceive conspiracies in innocent situations."

However test participants who regained control by focusing on important personal values "were no different from people who never lost their feelings of self-control in the first place." The study appears in the October 3 issue of the journal Science. – (Sapa, October 2008)

Read more:
Trick shows how we remember
Subliminal messages do work

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Gauteng DA leader Solly Msimanga says the party's voters want it to explore conditional coalition talks with the ANC. 
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
It's a step in the right direction. An ANC-DA coalition would be the most stable option for SA
32% - 3552 votes
The DA should focus on working with all opposition parties, including the EFF, to unseat the ANC
15% - 1595 votes
The DA should rather remain in opposition than form a coalition with the ANC or the EFF
53% - 5852 votes
Vote
Rand - Dollar
16.97
+0.2%
Rand - Pound
20.33
-0.1%
Rand - Euro
17.56
-0.1%
Rand - Aus dollar
11.36
+0.0%
Rand - Yen
0.12
+0.2%
Gold
1,753.60
+0.2%
Silver
21.29
+0.1%
Palladium
1,863.45
+1.3%
Platinum
1,009.72
+0.4%
Brent Crude
83.19
-0.5%
Top 40
66,816
0.0%
All Share
73,128
0.0%
Resource 10
71,369
0.0%
Industrial 25
88,068
0.0%
Financial 15
16,117
0.0%
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.

LEARN MORE