Pulling the Thread

PULLING THE THREAD unravels some of America’s most popular conspiracy theories to reveal the emotional, cognitive and social forces that lead rational people to believe irrational things. Instead of telling audiences what to think, the series pushes us to think about HOW we think - why conspiracy theories are so alluring, how we get caught in their web, how they undermine trust and civil-society - and what we can do about it.


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Season 1

  • Episode

    Conspiracy Theories Are For Losers

    Which political party is most guilty of endorsing conspiracy theories? The answer: the losing party. Fear and loss are triggers for conspiracy thinking so the party out of power turns to theories to explain its losses and rally its base. But in 2016, both parties seem to be embracing conspiracy thinking more than ever. Could it be that people across the political spectrum are feeling like losers?

  • Episode

    The 5 Triggers of Conspiracy Thinking

    Why are conspiracy theories so alluring? It turns out millions of years of evolution have baked all sorts of fascinating quirks into our brains. Mental shortcuts like confirmation bias and “patternicity” served us well when making quick decisions meant life or death, but in today’s information environment, they can lead us down the rabbit hole of conspiracy thinking.

  • Episode

    Prudent Paranoia

    African Americans are more suspicious of doctors than the rest of the country and 50% believe conspiracy theories about HIV. They’ve got good reasons to be suspicious, including decades of institutionalized racism in American healthcare. How do we draw the line between being prudent and being paranoid?

  • Episode

    Intuitionists vs. Rationalists

    Is the government covering up secret contact with aliens? Whether or not you believe this conspiracy theory depends in part on whether you are and intuitionist (driven by gut instinct) or a rationalist (driven by hard evidence). Studies show that these different world views are increasingly driving Americans apart. How do we bridge the divide?

  • Episode

    The Illusion of Understanding

    Not long ago, we had a few news sources: newspaper in the morning, Walter Cronkite in the evening...today, anyone can be a “journalist.” This has problematized a common mental foible known as the illusion of understanding: we tend to think we know a lot more about most things than we really do. With the decline of media gatekeepers, how can we separate experts from amateurs and fact from fiction?

  • Episode

    The Stories We Tell Ourselves

    What happens when real life doesn’t follow the script? Millions of Americans insist the Sandy Hook shooting never happened. Instead of a senseless tragedy, they’ve embraced conspiracy narratives that casts the victim’s parents as villains and themselves as underdog heroes seeking the truth. But one Sandy Hook parent is fighting back against conspiracy thinking...and winning.

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