Belief In The Paranormal
Belief In The Paranormal
Chris French (Anomalistic Psychologist) gives expert video advice on: Why do people believe in the paranormal?; Do most people believe in the paranormal?; How important are people's paranormal beliefs to them? and more...
Why do people believe in the paranormal?
People believe in the paranormal for lots of different reasons. But one of the most common reasons is because they themselves have had an experience that they cannot explain in any other terms. Another reason is that there may be someone that they know and trust and respect who tells them about an experience second-hand that they accept can't be explained in any other terms. But in addition to that, you've also got, what I would say, is a very pro paranormal bias in the media and in society generally so most programs on the paranormal are actually pushing the side of it that there are these things we can't explain in scientific terms and that make the universe a more interesting and mysterious place. So there's a whole host of different reasons people might believe but I think on a very fundamental level, one of the reasons that we want to believe in the paranormal so strongly is that is does address some of our most fundamental fears and in particular, the fear of our own mortality. The idea that we eventually will cease to exist, is one that most people find quite anxiety provoking. So, anything that actually says "No, that is not the case. You know we are more than just complicated machines and there is something about us that will survive a bodily death," and of course that is one of the fundamentals of belief in the paranormal.
Do most people believe in the paranormal?
Most people do appear to believe in the paranormal according to opinion polls. So, although if you look at individual paranormal phenomena, you might find that it very often will be around half. Around half the population of western adults believe in telepathy. About half believe in life after death. About half believe that dreams sometimes foretell the future. About a third believe in psychokinesis, so on and so forth. But if you look at people in terms of do they endorse any kind of belief which would seem to be paranormal, then on that basis, most of the population, typically about 65 percent, say yes. They do believe in the paranormal. So science has got to address this. Either paranormal forces are real, or it is telling us something very important about human psychology.
How important are people's paranormal beliefs to them?
When you ask the question, "do you believe in the paranormal?" and you give a range of different examples and people say yes, no, don't know, then one of the things that that's masking is that people's paranormal beliefs can differ in terms of for some people, they are absolutely central. It's the most, one of the most aspects of their lives, they live their lives in terms of their paranormal beliefs, they maybe would never make an important decision without consulting their psychic or their astrologer or they believe that they've got some special gift, maybe they themselves actually make a living from their belief in the paranormal. So on the one hand you've got those people. You've got other people who have maybe had the occasional experience that they think probably was paranormal, and you get others who might never have had a direct personal experience like that, but they've read books, they've seen documentaries, they've read newspapers, and on that basis they think the evidence does support the idea that paranormal forces are real. It would be much easier to convince someone in the latter category that maybe they're wrong, maybe paranormal forces don't exist, than someone for whom that belief is a central and important part of their lives, because basically you're saying well you know, you have, you've based your whole life on something that isn't true, and people therefore will get very emotional and you do find that this is one of those areas, like religion and like politics, where people have a very strong emotion investment often and will kind of get very very angry if you actually suggest that maybe paranormal forces don't exist. The short answer to your question is that people differ with respect to how important those paranormal beliefs are in their lives, and for a lot of people they're not that central, but for a sizable minority, they are.
How easy or difficult is to change someone's belief with regards to the paranormal?
People certainly cannot change their mind about the paranormal and I used to be a believer and now I am putting with this sceptic. I know that from the reaction and feedback I get when I do talks or when I do my lectures as part of our Degree program the students end up a lot more sceptical at the end of the course than they were at the beginning. So clearly it is possible to convince people, but you will typically find that people for whom the paranormal beliefs are one of the most important things in their lives and who possibly believe themselves to actually have psychic abilities, they will be incredibly difficult to convince and in fact even though you may test them in a way that they agree in advance to be a perfectly fare test you find that if you carry out the test and they fail it they will then find all kind of reasons why in fact it was not a fare test. You will get this kind of 'mental gymnastics' that goes on in order to preserve their belief in this thing that is so important to them that they are not going to let go. We come across that time and time again. But it is possible to believe some of these things, but it's easier with some people than with others.
Are people with certain personality types more likely to believe in the paranormal?
There've been lots of interesting research, looking at the kind of people who are likely to believe in the paranormal, and also the kind of people who are likely to themselves report paranormal experiences. The kinds of factors that seem to be important are things like, if you are more hypnotically susceptible, you're more likely to believe in the paranormal. If you have a greater tendency to engage in fantasy, if you've got a vivid imagination, if you have a tendency to go into altered states of consciousness, to be, in common parlance, "a little bit spacey", then those are the kinds of people who are more likely to believe in the paranormal. And this might help to explain why people have what appear to be paranormal experiences, because certainly those kinds of people would be more likely to actually confuse what's happening just in their own minds and their own imaginations with what's happening out there in the real world. And there's good experimental evidence to support that kind of an idea. Those kind of people might end up sincerely believing they had a paranormal experience when in fact it was based on a fantasy, a daydream, maybe even an actual dream that now, when they think about it, they think it was something that really did happen to them. So, yes, there are particular kinds of people who are more likely to believe in the paranormal and that might help to explain where some of those paranormal experiences, or apparent paranormal experiences, are actually coming from.
How does a person's background affect their belief in the paranormal?
The way that a person's is brought up - their general kind of background, is going to have a big influence on whether or not they believe in the paranormal. For start, someone who grows up in a household where the parents are very into the paranormal, lots of their time is spent discussing those kind of issues, maybe engaging in practices related to to the paranormal, then they are more likely to accept that all this stuff is real. Most of us get a lot of our worldview from our parents or from brothers and sisters as we were growing up. Another important factor is the relisous background of people. When it comes to religion, on the one hand there is the factor in most religions there is a belief in life after death. There is the notion that the soul can exist separately from the body, which makes it then easier, if you already accept that, to actually take on board the paranormal ideas. There are some religions that have very very negative attitudes towards parapsychology and then see it as dabbling in dark forces and see them as experiences which are best left alone that will color people's beliefs and attitudes.Theres no simple answer but very often when you look at one particular individual and the experiences they have had in their life you can see why they have a particular set of beliefs.
Are people with mental health problems more likely to believe in the paranormal?
Lots of skeptics will say that if you report on these kinds of experiences, well you're just naff, you're crazy. Now, I think that's far, far too simplistic. There are lots of perfectly sane, intelligent, rational, honest people who report having these paranormal experiences. When you actually look at the research literature you will find that there is in fact, in general, a slight correlation with measures of psychological maladjustment. So if you have tendencies towards manic depression, for example, you will be more likely to believe in the paranormal and report having paranormal experiences. If you show tendencies towards schizotypical thinking, again the same thing applies. So in general terms there is some truth in it, but the correlations, although they're significant are all pretty weak and by no means offer a full explanation.
Why do people believe in aliens and UFO's?
When it comes to aliens, people often say to sceptics, “How can you possibly be so arrogant that you think that intelligent life has only evolved on this one tiny planet, when the universe is so vast?” And the truth is that most sceptics aren't actually saying that at all. Most scientists, although some would disagree, would accept the idea that the universe is such a big place that it is quite likely that life has evolved elsewhere and even that intelligent life has evolved elsewhere. But that's not the question. The question is really “Are we being visited on a regular basis by extraterrestrial life?” Now, if by UFOs people mean there are things up in the sky when you look up there and you don't know what they are, then we all accept that UFO's exist. But, of course, people don't mean that. They mean E.T. There are lots of explanations for why people might think they have seen an extraterrestrial craft. Usually, it's going to be explained in terms of something like the planet Venus, or a weather balloon, or an airplane seen from an unusual angle, or meteorites, or whatever else it may be. Usually we can figure out what it was people that actually saw that they mistook as being a UFO.
Why do people claim to have been abducted by aliens?
When it comes to people who think they have actually been abducted by aliens, and taken on board space craft, and been medically examined, and all this kind of "X-Files" stuff, then I will be more interested in a more physiological point of view. There are a number of different factors that are involved. Very often the roots of this belief seem to be in an episode of sleep paralysis, where people have hallucinated something happening to them in their bed room. They may well in search of an explanation for this, have gone to see a hypnotist who specializes in hypnotic regression, already thinking they might have been abducted by aliens. And then when they go through this procedure, they end up with detailed memories of having been abducted by aliens, but these are false memories. They are not memories of something that really happened. They are memories based on belief, fantasy, expectation, and so on.
Are twins more likely to be psychic?
It is very commonly believed that twins may actually be more likely to have a psychic link than other people. It's certainly not all unusual, and I've met twins like this, where there obviously is an incredibly close bond between them - they'll finish off the other's sentences, they kind of walk in the same way, they have the same preferences and so on and so forth. The question we have to ask ourselves is can we explain what appears some to be possibly is psychic in other terms . The kind of factors you need to bear in mind are first of all is that twins -identical twins are genetically identical therefore they are quite likely to have very similar preferences, regarding the way they dress, the kind of people they like, the kind of people they are, and so and and so forth. And, on top of that you'll find because they the live together, they do have a very, very close understanding. They've been brought up together. You will find with any people who have a close bond of that sort - sometime you find it between lovers certainly in the early stages of the relationship, they kind of know what the other is thinking - they are on the same wave length. So you will get lots of situations where one will finish off a sentence for the other. Unfortunately that's all really kind of fairly anecdotal. If you put people in a situation where you test them under controlled conditions, then you can try and find out if they really do have any special type of telepathic link. Despite the anecdotal evidence, there's are lots where one twins apparently is in distress and the other twin reports that they knew something was wrong and so on is suggestive and does merit further study. At the moment the evidence being tested under controlled conditions with respect to twins doesn't support the idea that there is a true telepathic link between them.