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Experiments of Scientists About Belief in the Paranormal

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    Bressan P. (2002). The connection between random sequences, everyday coincidences, and beliefs in the paranormal. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 16, 17-34. Paola Bressan (2002) conducted two within subject studies that explore dthe theory of how individuals see conections between coincidences and paranormal beliefs due to their misunderstanding in interpreting the difference between coincidence and chance. Bressan’s (2002) first study looks into whether or not believers in paranormal activity make more probabilistic errors, if they are biased towards randomness (in relation to repetition avoidance), and if they view these acts of randomness as coincidences. In her second study, she looked into the correlation between the occurrences of coincidences and repetition avoidance. In study one, Bressan (2002) tested 111 participants. 70 participants were university students and 41 participants were regular workers. Participants were asked to complete three questionnaires in the following order:

    1.  Coincidence questionnaire,
    2.  Probabilistic reasoning questionnaire and,
    3.  Belief in the paranormal questionnaire.

    Bressan (2002) found that paranormal believers reported more coincidences, did not make errors to probabilistic reasoning tasks, and had an increase in avoidance of repetition in random sequences. Bressan (2002) also found that the general distortion of how people view chance were positively correlated with paranormal belief, but once students were separated from non-students, this association disappeared. In study two, Bressen (2002) conducted research on 103 participants. 45 participants were university students and 48 were regular workers. The procedure was identical to study one but, more questions were added to the probabilistic reasoning questionnaire. Bressan’s (2002) findings solidified her results from her first study.


    This paper argues against the theory that people interpret unusual coincidences as paranormal because they misunderstand the probability of their occurring by chance. In the two studies reported here, 214 subjects (19-62 yrs old) were given a questionnaire on the frequency of coincidences in their lives, a series of probabilistic problems, and a scale assessing their belief in the paranormal. Believers reported more coincidences than disbelievers. Believers made more errors than disbelievers in tasks reflecting sensitivity to the relationship between expected distribution of chance events and total number of occurrences; and avoided repetitions of identical alternatives in a random sequence to a greater extent. However, the last two effects completely disappeared in a subsample of university students. It is proposed that a more frequent experience of coincidences, on the one hand, and a more biased representation of randomness, on the other, are independent consequences of a stronger propensity of believers in the paranormal to connect separate events.

    Brugger P. & Graves R.E. (1997). Testing vs. believing hypothesis: magical ideation in the judgement of contingencies. Cognitive Neuropsychiatry, 2(4), 251-272.Peter Brugger and Roger Graves (1997) conducted a within subject study that tested whether or not normal individuals will be more likely to accept coincidences and random contingencies in relation to those that do not fall in to what we consider normal in relation to social norms. Brugger and Graves (1997) tested 40 undergraduates. Participants first had to complete a differential reinforcement of low rates (DRL) task which induced superstitious thoughts and behaviors. They were also given two forms that evaluated there contingency and hypothesis testing behavior.

    After this, they were given three questionnaires:

    1.  The Magical Ideation Scale,
    2.  The Scale for Physical Anhedonia and
    3.  The Temporal Lobes Sign Inventory.

    Brugger and Graves (1997) found that participants that scored high in the Magical Ideation Scale tested fewer hypotheses and believed more hypotheses relating to illusion or coincidence in comparison to those who scored lower. Brugger and Graves’ (1997) main prediction was that individuals with a tendency to believe in nonexistent forms of causation would also believe in coincidences and illusory contingencies. Their study found that those that scored high on The Magical Ideation Scale believed in hypotheses regarding contingencies.


    This paper examines the idea that an important dimension of human cognition is the amount of objective evidence required for perception of meaningful patterns. At the clinical extreme of this dimension are patients with hallucinations and delusions who experience perception with no external evidence and see connections between objectively unrelated events. Also, normal individuals exhibit considerable variation along this continuum. The theory proposed here predicts that normal subjects with low evidential criteria will be more likely to accept causal explanations, not only for everyday ”paranormal” coincidences, but also for random contingencies in a laboratory experiment. This prediction was confirmed when 40 students completed a differential reinforcement of low rates (DRL) task designed to induce superstitious behaviour and were then questioned about their hypotheses concerning the contingencies for successful performance.

    Participants scoring high on the Magical Ideation scale (indicating greater belief in paranormal phenomena) tested fewer hypotheses during the task, and they ended up believing in more hypotheses regarding illusory contingencies than did their low-scoring peers. We proposed that a continuum of hypothesis-testing behaviour underlies the schizotypy continuum, with ”positive” schizotypal traits reflecting a Type I error bias and ”negative” traits a Type II error bias. Differential activation patterns within frontal-limbic networks are tentatively suggested as a physiological correlate of the behavioural continuum.

    Hadlaczky, G. & Westerlund J. (2011) Sensitivity to coincidences and paranormal belief. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 113(3), 894-908. Gergo Hadlaczky and Joakim Westerlund (2011) conducted a study within subject study investigating whether or not those with a lower threshold of being surprised by coincidences have a greater chance of becoming a believer in paranormal belief in comparison to individuals with a lower threshold of being surprised. Hadlaczky and Westerlund (2011) tested 41 undergraduate psychology students. For this study, Hadlaczky and Westerlund (2011) chose 12 hit-images and 96 miss-images to present to participants. Each image was paired with two words, one word being more related than the other (vague hit vs. precise hit). Participants were also exposed to 12 coincidences, each varying from very remarkable to not remarkable. Hadlaczky and Westerlund (2011) used The Australian Sheep-Goat Scale to measure paranormal belief. Participants were told they were participating in a study measuring telepathy and that they were acting as judges of past participants. Results from this study showed that coincidences with high objective remarkability received higher ratings in contrast to those with lower remarkability which supports Hadlaczky and Westerlund (2011) objective.


    Often it is difficult to find a natural explanation as to why a surprising coincidence occurs In attempting to find one, people may be inclined to accept paranormal explanations. The objective of this study was to investigate whether people with a lower threshold for being surprised by coincidences have a greater propensity to become believers compared to those with a higher threshold. Participants were exposed to artificial coincidences, which were formally defined as less or more probable, and were asked to provide remarkability ratings Paranormal belief was measured by the Australian Sheep-Goat Scale. An analysis of the remarkability ratings revealed a significant interaction effect between Sheep-Goat score and type of coincidence, suggesting that people with lower thresholds of surprise, when experiencing coincidences, harbor higher paranormal belief than those with a higher threshold. The theoretical aspects of these findings were discussed.

    Musch J. & Ehrenberg K. (2002). Probability misjudgement, cognitive ability, and belief in the paranormal. British Journal of Psychology, 93, 169-177. Jochen Musch and Katja Ehrenberg (2002) conducted a study correlational study exploring the theory that probability, misjudgment, low cognitive ability, and belief in the paranormal are correlated with low cognitive ability rather than specific deficits in probabilistic reasoning. Musch and Ehrenberg (2002) tested 123 participants. Each participants were given six probabilistic reasoning tasks and a paranormal belief scale.

    The six probabilistic reasoning tasks included:

    1.  dice sequences,
    2.  dice throws,
    3.  random number generation,
    4.  birthday paradox I,
    5.  birthday paradox II, and
    6.  sample size.

    Musch and Ehrenberg (2002) found that paranormal belief was associated with poor probabilistic reasoning in three of the six probabilistic reasoning tasks (dice sequence, dice throw, and sample size). They also found a significant correlation between general cognitive ability and four out of the six probabilistic reasoning tasks (dice sequence, dice throw, random number generation, and sample size).


    According to the probability misjudgment account of paranormal belief (Blackmore & Troscianko, 1985), believers in the paranormal tend to wrongly attribute remarkable coincidences to paranormal causes rather than chance. Previous studies have shown that belief in the paranormal is indeed positively related to error rates in probabilistic reasoning. General cognitive ability could account for a relationship between these two variables without assuming a causal role of probabilistic reasoning in the forming of paranormal beliefs, however. To test this alternative explanation, a belief in the paranormal scale (BPS) and a battery of probabilistic reasoning tasks were administered to 123 university students. Confirming previous findings, a significant correlation between BPS scores and error rates in probabilistic reasoning was observed. This relationship disappeared, however, when cognitive ability as measured by final examination grades was controlled for. Lower cognitive ability correlated substantially with belief in the paranormal. This finding suggests that differences in general cognitive performance rather than specific probabilistic reasoning skills provide the basis for paranormal beliefs.

    Rogers P., Qualter P., & Wood D. (2016). The impact of event vividness, event severity, and prior paranormal belief on attributions towards depicted remarkable coincidence experience: two studies examining the misattribution hypothesis. British Journal of Psychology, 107(4), 710-751. Paul Rogers, Pamela Qualter, and Preston Lancashire (2016) conducted two between subject studies examining the impact event vividness, event severity, and paranormal belief had on individuals and coincidences. In study one Rogers, Qualter, and Lancashire (2016) will examine which manipulation (event vividness or event severity) will have an impact on paranormal believers when depicting a coincidence. They tested 179 participants. They created a “3-way vividness x severity x belief type” between subject design to measure how event severity and event vividness impact someone who is a paranormal believer or non-believer. Participants were given a questionnaire pack, plane crash scenario, and the Australian-Goat Scale. Rogers, Qualter, and Lancashire (2016) found that paranormal believers were more likely to reject coincidences. They also found that event vividness and severity had little to no impact on both paranormal believers and disbelievers. In study two, they used the same procedure as study one with minor changes. Study two provided additional evidence that paranormal believers are more likely to reject coincidences.


    Two studies examine the impact event vividness, event severity, and prior paranormal belief has on causal attributions for a depicted remarkable coincidence experience. In Study 1, respondents (n = 179) read a hypothetical vignette in which a fictional character accurately predicts a plane crash 1 day before it occurs. The crash was described in either vivid or pallid terms with the final outcome being either severe (fatal) or non‐severe (non‐fatal). Respondents completed 29 causal attribution items, one attribution confidence item, nine scenario perception items, a popular paranormal belief scale, and a standard demographics questionnaire. Principal axis factoring reduced the 29 attribution items to four attribution factors which were then subjected to a 2 (event vividness) × 2 (event severity) × 2 (paranormal belief) MANCOVA controlling for respondent gender. As expected, paranormal believers attributed the accurate crash prediction less to coincidence and more to both paranormal and transcendental knowing than did paranormal sceptics.

    Furthermore, paranormal (psychokinesis) believers deemed the prediction more reflective of paranormal knowing to both

    1.  a vivid/non‐fatal and
    2.  a pallid/fatal crash depiction.

    Vividness, severity, and paranormal belief types had no impact on attribution confidence. In Study 2, respondents (also n = 179) generated data that were a moderately good fit to the previous factor structure and replicated several differences across attributional pairings albeit for paranormal non‐believers only. Corresponding effects for event severity and paranormal belief were not replicated. Findings are discussed in terms of their support for the paranormal misattribution hypothesis and the impact of availability biases in the form of both vividness and severity effects. Methodological issues and future research ideas are also discussed.

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