Understanding Paranormal Beliefs: Individual Differences in Spirituality and Evaluation of Evidence

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This study addresses the question of how preexisting beliefs influence the evaluation of ambiguous evidence. Belief in ghosts was chosen because, in American society, there is no clear consensus over whether or not ghosts exist. Also they fall outside the previously studied realms of science and religion. Forty six undergraduate students, age 18 to 24, were asked to evaluate the convincingness of twelve pieces of evidence for the existence of ghosts. Subsequently each participant was interview about their explicit ghost beliefs as well as their religious background. Subjects were divided into three groups based on their belief in ghosts; belief in anthropomorphic ghosts (Group 1), belief in non-anthropomorphic ghosts (Group 2), and lack of belief in any type of ghost (Group 3). Group membership was treated as the independent variable, and evidence convincingness ratings and religious beliefs were treated as the dependant variables of interest. As predicted, subjects rated evidence as most convincing when it was consistent with their existing beliefs. Results also indicate a relationship between religious beliefs and ghost beliefs. Those with a religious framework that accommodates the existence of ghosts were twelve times more likely to believe in them. Together these findings suggest an interplay between an individual?s existing worldview and their evaluation of new evidence that could lead to a reciprocal strengthening of belief.


Dr. Andrew Shtulman




Ford Research Endowment

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