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Lecture 8: Cognitive Factors Underlying Paranormal Belief n 1.Introduction n 2.Review of relevant cognitive factors n 3.Conclusion.

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Presentation on theme: "Lecture 8: Cognitive Factors Underlying Paranormal Belief n 1.Introduction n 2.Review of relevant cognitive factors n 3.Conclusion."— Presentation transcript:

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2 Lecture 8: Cognitive Factors Underlying Paranormal Belief n 1.Introduction n 2.Review of relevant cognitive factors n 3.Conclusion

3 One of every four Americans believes in ghosts

4 One of every four Americans believe they have had a telepathic experience

5 One in six Americans have felt that they have been in touch with someone who had died

6 One in ten claim to have seen or been in the presence of a ghost

7 More than half believe in the Devil, and one in ten claimed to have talked to the Devil

8 One in seven say they have personally seen a UFO

9 Three in four read their horoscopes in the newspaper, and one in four say they believe in astrology

10 Opinion Poll Data, Daily Mail, 2/2/98 n 64% believe that some people have powers that cannot be explained by science n 63% believe in God n 52% believe in life after death n 49% believe in ghosts n 49% believe in precognitive dreams n 49% believe in heaven (only 28% believe in hell!) n 47% believe in thought reading n 41% believe in communication with the dead n 34% believe in psychokinesis n 26% believe in angels n 25% believe in reincarnation

11 Anomalistic Psychology n Anomalistic psychology may be defined as the study of extraordinary phenomena of behaviour and experience, including (but not restricted to) those which are often labelled paranormal. It is directed towards understanding bizarre experiences that many people have without assuming a priori that there is anything paranormal involved. It entails attempting to explain paranormal and related beliefs and ostensibly paranormal experiences in terms of known (or knowable) psychological and physical factors.

12 Illusion of Control (Langer, 1975) n a tendency for people to perceive a random process as being potentially under their control, which is increased if the situation seems to incorporate elements of skill. n Cf. New Hampshire Lottery (1964) with New Jersey Lottery (1971) n ESP: Ayeroff & Abelson (1976) n PK: Benassi, Sweeney & Drevno (1979) n Coin-tossing: Blackmore & Troscianko (1985) n PK: Brugger, Regard & Landis (1991)

13 Poor Estimation of Probabilities The Birthday Problem:How many people would you need to have at a party to have a 50:50 chance that two of them share the same birthday (ignoring year)? The Birthday Problem: How many people would you need to have at a party to have a 50:50 chance that two of them share the same birthday (ignoring year)? n 23

14 Precognitive Dreams (1) n Dreams will come true purely on the basis of coincidental matches between dream events and future events (Paulos, 1988) n If we label a dream as apparently precognitive if chances of it coming true are less than 1 in 10,000 and assume each person remembers one dream per night...

15 Precognitive Dreams (2) n … over a full year, 96.42% of the population will not have such a dream BUT … n … around 3.6% of the population WILL! n Thats 9 million people in the US alone. n In fact, additional non-paranormal factors will lead to even greater numbers

16 Probability Estimation n Blackmore & Troscianko (1985) found some significant differences between believers and non-believers n Other studies have failed to do so (e.g., Mathews & Blackmore, 1995; Blackmore, 1997; Blackmore, Galaud & Walker, 1994) n Musch & Ehrenberg (2002) did find correlation but claimed it reflected general intelligence (Irwins reviews cast doubt on this)

17 Poor Concept of Randomness n Would lead to a tendency to read significance into random patterns n Subjective random number generation tasks (e.g., Wegenaar, 1972) n Repetition avoidance in random strings (Brugger, Landis & Regard, 1990)

18 Reasoning Errors n Wierzbicki (1985) produced evidence suggesting that believers were poorer at syllogistic reasoning than non- believers n Irwin (1991) unable to replicate – suggested results might reflect experimenter/context effects n Roberts & Seager (1999) did replicate

19 Critical Thinking n Alcock & Otis (1980) and Gray & Mill (1990) claimed believers were poorer at critical thinking n Roe (1995) has criticised these studies on methodological grounds

20 Confirmatory Bias n Believers in astrology ignoring those parts of a reading that do not fit? n Psychics ignoring failed predictions? n Bias stronger in believers than disbelievers? –Alcock & Otis (1980) –Russell & Jones (1980) –Jones & Russell (1980) –French (1992) –Roe (1985)

21 Lack of Knowledge of Conjuring Techniques n Singer & Benassi (1981) n Wiseman & Morris (1995) n Wiseman, Smith & Wiseman (1995; following Besterman, (1995; following Besterman,1932)

22 Population Sterotypes n Marks (2000; after Marks & Kammann, 1980) n Lund (1939) – star is favourite response using Zener cards n Rigby (1989) n French (1992)

23 Perceptual Biases n Blackmoore & Moore (1994) n Brugger et al. (1993)

24 Lack of Knowledge of Cold Reading & the Barnum Effect n Cold reading – a technique that can be used to give complete strangers the impression that you know all about them (Hyman, 1977; Dutton, 1998; Roe, 1995) n The Barnum Effect – one aspect of cold reading, relying on the fact that people often accept vague, general and ambiguous statements as descriptive of their own unique personalities (Dickson & Kelly, 1985; Furnham & Schofield, 1987; Snyder, Shenkel, & Lowery, 1977)

25 Subjective Validation n This occurs when two unrelated events are perceived to be related because a belief, expectancy, or hypothesis demands or requires a relationship" (Marks, 2000, p. 41).

26 Electronic Voice Phenomenon n It is claimed (e.g., Raudive, 1971) that by leaving a tape-recorder in record mode or by recording from a radio set between stations, messages from the spirit realm can be recorded n Interpretation of the vague sounds recorded is often entirely subjective (Smith, 1972; Ellis, 1975)

27 Examples of EVP (1) n The coward n Were sorry n Get out, get out, get out of my house

28 Examples of EVP (2) n Come and find the cake n Supposed to say Someones in the way!

29 Universality of Cognitive Biases It would make sense in evolutionary terms for humans to develop cognitive systems that can readily detect patterns and regularities, causes and effects, in the environment. The fact that people claim to detect regularities even when confronted with true randomness, or that people often perceive causal relationships where none exist, may be a small price to pay from an evolutionary perspective. (French, 1993, p. 195)

30 Acknowledgement With thanks to Hilary Evans, proprietor of the Mary Evans Picture Library, for permission to use illustrations featured in this presentation. These illustrations must not be reproduced in any form without permission from the Mary Evans Picture Library.


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