America's Obsession With UFOs Is Just Out Of This World
The U.S. Congress recently held a public hearing about "Unidentified Aerial Phenomena" (previously known as UFOs), partly because of intense public interest on the matter. But what is it that makes Americans so prone to believe in aliens and conspiracy theories?
One of the main reasons the U.S. Congress has become increasingly interested in Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) is because they are a highly popular topic.
The interest spiked again in recent days as the U.S. Congress held a public hearing about allegations that the government was withholding evidence about aliens. Given the data on how many people believe in aliens, the hearing's success was hardly surprising.
Let's make one thing clear: the phenomena known as UAPs are what common parlance calls Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs). In 2021, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) began substituting the latter term to engage with the subject seriously and distance itself from conspiracy theories.
But the fact is that the debate on ufology, UFOs, and now UAPs, has always been linked to conspiracy theories, which has been detrimental to the progression of research on the topic. Why do Americans believe in conspiracy theories and aliens? The two questions can go hand in hand.
The importance of environment
John Mayer, clinical psychologist and author of Family Fir: Find Your Balance in Life, told Yahoo Life that there are several factors that lead people to believe these theories. The first is their environment.
As Mayer explains, people reinforce their own beliefs when they surround themselves with people who share them. "If your family and friends believe in aliens, you're likely to do the same," he said.
NASA researchers support this explanation: they say that the more we look for UFOs or think about them, the more convinced we are that we have encountered one. One example was during the Covid-19 pandemic confinement, when the world was looking for explanations for what was happening.
At an annual UFO festival in the U.S.
Conspiracy theories make you feel insecure
During this period, large spikes in alleged UFO sightings were recorded. According to NASA, this is also because people were paying much more attention and so were more likely to dwell on these suspicious objects whenever they needed a distraction or were simply bored.
There are two possibilities: either we are alone in the universe or we are not alone. Both are equally terrifying.
Another is that when facing “secret” knowledge, there is a need for explanations to be unique, as Bristol University psychology professor Stephan Lewandowsky explained to the BBC. “We don't like the idea that something terrible could happen out of nowhere, so it's psychologically comforting for some people to believe in a well-organized conspiracy of powerful people who are responsible for these events."
However, this idea is contradicted by conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories make people feel more insecure, powerless and even hopeless. Experts such as Karen Douglas, professor of psychology at the University of Kent, say this leads to a chain reaction: once in that state, people are more likely to continue believing in these theories.
Nicola Fox, NASA associate administrator, speaking during a public meeting of the Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena Independent Study Team.
Two terrifying possibilities
The only certainty about extraterrestrial life is that the topic is mired in conspiracy theories. To sum up the debate, Christopher C. French, head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at the University of London, quotes a phrase said by the writer Arthur C. Clarke, the mind behind 2001: A Space Odyssey: "There are two possibilities: either we are alone in the universe or we are not alone. Both are equally terrifying."
What to do? The desire to know whether we are alone or in the universe is perfectly understandable. Experts suggest that when politicians acknowledge the possibility that contacts with aliens could have been kept secret, the public tends to believe conspiracy theories more. So, what is needed is high-quality information and data to shed light on these occurrences. That is why NASA has shown increasing interest in analyzing abnormal phenomena. But in order to do this, the concept of UFOs needs to be destigmatized urgently.
"My hope is that one result of the study.... [will be] to lessen the sense of conspiracy," David Spergel, president of the Simons Foundation and chair of NASA's as-yet-unpublished UAP study, told the BBC.
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