The Paranormal, the Nuts and the Stupid!

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The Paranormal, the Nuts and the Stupid!

#1  Postby jerome » Jun 07, 2012 2:23 pm

OK, we often see alleged round these parts that paranormal believers are prone to be dumb or mentally unwell. Let's take a look at what science tells us on this question. This is what parapsychologists call the Cognitive Deficits Hypothesis Wilson & French look at it in Wilson, Krissy and French, Christopher C.. 2006. The relationship between susceptibility to false memories, dissociativity, and paranormal belief and experience. Personality and Individual Differences, 41(8), pp. 1493-1502. ISSN 01918869 if anyone has access to the Journal by database but I'm going to look at what French et al 2012 have to say in their 2012 book Anomalistic Psychology as the most up to date source. It is excellent and I highly recommend it.

1. Are believers bad at judging probability, prone to misunderstanding randomness?


We see this asserted all the time, so what does the research say? The history of this one is interesting - Susan Blackmore raised it back in 1985, with two experiments testing if believers in ESP were more likely to be bad at judging randomness in things like the Shared Birthday conundrum than non-believers. One experiment was significant; the other not, but a 1991 replication gave the idea credence and now it is popularly believed by sceptics. Since that time four more studies, including a very large (6000 participant) 1997 study by Blackmore have failed to replicate the effect, showing no difference in the two groups, and it not now considered to be "a robust... or even genuine effect" French (2012) p. 21

Anyway I intend to do ten of these: next up Perceptual ability in believers and non-believers - but first I have to go make dinner :) For those interested in checking it out, you can read the largest experiment here -- Blackmore, Susan (1997) Probability Misjudgment and Belief in the Paranormal: A Newspaper Survey, British Journal of Psychology, 88, 683-689.

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Re: The Paranormal, the Nuts and the Stupid!

#2  Postby Sovereign » Jun 07, 2012 3:01 pm

I don't think intelligence or stupidity have anything to do with it. I classify paranormal belief as a subset of religious belief as I've never encountered a person who believed in ghosts who did not also ascribe to some sort of religious belief be it one of the orthodoxy or the other forms. I haven't done a study but anecdotaly, I have encountered very intelligent people who believe very strongly in ghosts. Personally it irks me but what can I do. I do hold that position that if an idea is false but real to the person, then it s possible to have a (imagined to be) real effect on them. I'm not a fan of ghost hunters because they harm people by confirmation bias and in several cases as pointed out in the other thread, emotional trauma. A ghost of a rapist is tormenting your daughter? A person believing in ghosts would flip out like is you said to a person that a (real) person who was a convicted rapist was pen pals with your daughter. I've wandered a bit off topic but oh well.
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Re: The Paranormal, the Nuts and the Stupid!

#3  Postby Microfarad » Jun 07, 2012 3:03 pm

What is the exact difference between religions and paranormal beliefs?
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Re: The Paranormal, the Nuts and the Stupid!

#4  Postby Zwaarddijk » Jun 07, 2012 3:07 pm

Microfarad wrote:What is the exact difference between religions and paranormal beliefs?

A religion need not have any belief involved - e.g. one can be a perfectly "religious" orthodox Jew without believing in any of the Jewish doctrines, just by acting out the customs of religious Judaism. Another difference is that religion usually has some kind of systematic thinking about their beliefs, as well as some kind of communal aspect - which usually is lacking wrt people who think ghosts exist and the like.
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Re: The Paranormal, the Nuts and the Stupid!

#5  Postby jerome » Jun 07, 2012 3:07 pm

Depends how you define paranormal. I think the term is pretty meaningless, but religious beliefs involve entities outside of time/space, paranormal entities are naturalistic just unknown at this time. There is a lot of research in the relationship between the two -- almost all parapsychologists in my experience are atheists, whether psi-proponents or sceptics, but then many spiritualists are atheist as well, while believing in an afterlife. Good question, I'll address it later on if you like with academic studies of the relationship between the two? Tony Jinks 2011 book is excellent on this. There is also some material on my blog on it, but I don;t have time to find it now - but there is a thread on Ghosts God & Ghosthunters further down this section as I recall which links to it.

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Re: The Paranormal, the Nuts and the Stupid!

#6  Postby jerome » Jun 07, 2012 3:08 pm

Zwaarddijk wrote:
Microfarad wrote:What is the exact difference between religions and paranormal beliefs?

A religion need not have any belief involved - e.g. one can be a perfectly "religious" orthodox Jew without believing in any of the Jewish doctrines, just by acting out the customs of religious Judaism. Another difference is that religion usually has some kind of systematic thinking about their beliefs, as well as some kind of communal aspect - which usually is lacking wrt people who think ghosts exist and the like.



That's an absolutely brilliant definition! Did you come up with it? IT resolves a problem I have faced in writing about this stuff for ages! :cheers:

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Re: The Paranormal, the Nuts and the Stupid!

#7  Postby Microfarad » Jun 07, 2012 3:13 pm

Zwaarddijk wrote:
Microfarad wrote:What is the exact difference between religions and paranormal beliefs?

A religion need not have any belief involved - e.g. one can be a perfectly "religious" orthodox Jew without believing in any of the Jewish doctrines, just by acting out the customs of religious Judaism. Another difference is that religion usually has some kind of systematic thinking about their beliefs, as well as some kind of communal aspect - which usually is lacking wrt people who think ghosts exist and the like.

But it isn't true for every religion. If a Catholic doesn't believe in every Catholic doctrine's dogma, he will be automatically a heretic.
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Re: The Paranormal, the Nuts and the Stupid!

#8  Postby campermon » Jun 07, 2012 3:16 pm

Microfarad wrote:
But it isn't true for every religion. If a Catholic doesn't believe in every Catholic doctrine's dogma, he will be automatically a heretic.

Yes, and be a founder/follower of a new religion!

Just think of the number of cults that christianity has spawned!

;)
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Re: The Paranormal, the Nuts and the Stupid!

#9  Postby Microfarad » Jun 07, 2012 3:22 pm

I am sorry, but I haven't understood the precise difference yet. There are many paranormal sects as well, aren't there?
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Re: The Paranormal, the Nuts and the Stupid!

#10  Postby campermon » Jun 07, 2012 3:25 pm

Microfarad wrote:I am sorry, but I haven't understood the precise difference yet. There are many paranormal sects as well, aren't there?


Well, I guess you could call 'Spiritualism' a religion.

As for paranormal belief / experience, that'd be tricky to categorize.

If it's a topic that interests you, you might be interested in the formal debate Jerome and I had (and haveyet to finish..); http://www.rationalskepticism.org/forma ... t6927.html

;)
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Re: The Paranormal, the Nuts and the Stupid!

#11  Postby Microfarad » Jun 07, 2012 3:31 pm

I am still not very fast at reading English texts, but i will look at it.
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Re: The Paranormal, the Nuts and the Stupid!

#12  Postby Ihavenofingerprints » Jun 07, 2012 3:31 pm

I don't think believers in the supernatural have mental problems. However I believe they are just applying their intellect to justify idea's they wish were true. (some might actually believe supernatural beings exist, against their personal preference, but they seem to be a minority).

Anyway, if research says believers aren't stupid, I'd tend to agree.
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Re: The Paranormal, the Nuts and the Stupid!

#13  Postby Zwaarddijk » Jun 07, 2012 3:37 pm

Microfarad wrote:
Zwaarddijk wrote:
Microfarad wrote:What is the exact difference between religions and paranormal beliefs?

A religion need not have any belief involved - e.g. one can be a perfectly "religious" orthodox Jew without believing in any of the Jewish doctrines, just by acting out the customs of religious Judaism. Another difference is that religion usually has some kind of systematic thinking about their beliefs, as well as some kind of communal aspect - which usually is lacking wrt people who think ghosts exist and the like.

But it isn't true for every religion. If a Catholic doesn't believe in every Catholic doctrine's dogma, he will be automatically a heretic.

Of course, but .... the point is that it would be a flawed generalization to think this is true of every religion - and it's fairly common that people think this is a thing that all religions do.
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Re: The Paranormal, the Nuts and the Stupid!

#14  Postby jerome » Jun 07, 2012 3:41 pm

2. Are paranormal believers less intelligent than non-believers?

The short answer according to French (2007) is no. Irwin (2009) writes "the cognitive deficits theory appears to be more successful as a polemical device for sceptical commentators than as an empirically grounded theory of paranormal belief." The issue is that some forms of paranormal belief may or may not be related to lower intelligence -- paranormal beliefs cover a wide spectrum -- but generally no correlation can be found, and I was unable to identify any support for the hypothesis for any given aspect of paranormal belief from Cardena et al. (2000)

The claim originates with well known skeptics, as with 1 above. The first paper to propose the link I have seen referenced is Alcock, J & Otis, L.P. (1980) Critical thinking and belief in the paranormal, Psychological Reports, 46, 479-482. However more recent research has failed to find this link: see Irwin (1991) The reasoning skills of paranormal believers, Journal of Parapsychology, 43, 205-220 and Roe, C. A. (1999). Critical Thinking and Belief in the Paranormal: A re-evaluation. British Journal of Psychology, 90, 85-98. The current position appears to be that paranormal believers are no less intelligent than non believers - in fact paranormal belief appears in the USA to be positively correlated with educational achievement, with the higher your level of academic qualification the more likely you are to believe. I think I can explain that very easily indeed, but I'd welcome suggestions!

(Psychologists are also far less likely to believe in ESP than physicists: again, try and explain that. :) I'm not sure i have the answer to this one!).

However if not less intelligent, or educated, have paranormal believers different reasoning styles? I'll turn to that next once done some work. :)

j x
Last edited by jerome on Jun 07, 2012 3:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Paranormal, the Nuts and the Stupid!

#15  Postby Microfarad » Jun 07, 2012 3:41 pm

Zwaarddijk wrote:
Microfarad wrote:
Zwaarddijk wrote:
Microfarad wrote:What is the exact difference between religions and paranormal beliefs?

A religion need not have any belief involved - e.g. one can be a perfectly "religious" orthodox Jew without believing in any of the Jewish doctrines, just by acting out the customs of religious Judaism. Another difference is that religion usually has some kind of systematic thinking about their beliefs, as well as some kind of communal aspect - which usually is lacking wrt people who think ghosts exist and the like.

But it isn't true for every religion. If a Catholic doesn't believe in every Catholic doctrine's dogma, he will be automatically a heretic.

Of course, but .... the point is that it would be a flawed generalization to think this is true of every religion - and it's fairly common that people think this is a thing that all religions do.

Religions have got a set of traditions and rituals which lack generic beliefs?
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Re: The Paranormal, the Nuts and the Stupid!

#16  Postby Zwaarddijk » Jun 07, 2012 3:43 pm

jerome wrote:
Zwaarddijk wrote:
Microfarad wrote:What is the exact difference between religions and paranormal beliefs?

A religion need not have any belief involved - e.g. one can be a perfectly "religious" orthodox Jew without believing in any of the Jewish doctrines, just by acting out the customs of religious Judaism. Another difference is that religion usually has some kind of systematic thinking about their beliefs, as well as some kind of communal aspect - which usually is lacking wrt people who think ghosts exist and the like.



That's an absolutely brilliant definition! Did you come up with it? IT resolves a problem I have faced in writing about this stuff for ages! :cheers:

j x

In part it's something I've got from reading some studies in comparative religion. However, some things seem to be considered religions these days even if they lack the communal aspect, though, and the religions I've been interested in learning about for a variety of reasons have tended to be on the community-based end of the spectrum (e.g. some varieties of Judaism, various minor middle east religions such as the druze, the yazidi, etc.)

The systematic thinking about beliefs need not per se be about beliefs either - in Judaism, the systematic thinking seems mostly to regard practices rather than contents of belief.

Anyways, happy to be of help. I can probably look up some references for you if you want to read some more scholarly sources on it.
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Re: The Paranormal, the Nuts and the Stupid!

#17  Postby Zwaarddijk » Jun 07, 2012 3:44 pm

Microfarad wrote:
Zwaarddijk wrote:
Microfarad wrote:
Zwaarddijk wrote:
A religion need not have any belief involved - e.g. one can be a perfectly "religious" orthodox Jew without believing in any of the Jewish doctrines, just by acting out the customs of religious Judaism. Another difference is that religion usually has some kind of systematic thinking about their beliefs, as well as some kind of communal aspect - which usually is lacking wrt people who think ghosts exist and the like.

But it isn't true for every religion. If a Catholic doesn't believe in every Catholic doctrine's dogma, he will be automatically a heretic.

Of course, but .... the point is that it would be a flawed generalization to think this is true of every religion - and it's fairly common that people think this is a thing that all religions do.

Religions have got a set of traditions and rituals which lack generic beliefs?

Waitwhat? My point is only that the idea that religions are sets of beliefs one has to believe in order to be a member of them does not apply to all of them.
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Re: The Paranormal, the Nuts and the Stupid!

#18  Postby Microfarad » Jun 07, 2012 3:49 pm

Zwaarddijk wrote:
Microfarad wrote:
Zwaarddijk wrote:
Microfarad wrote:
But it isn't true for every religion. If a Catholic doesn't believe in every Catholic doctrine's dogma, he will be automatically a heretic.

Of course, but .... the point is that it would be a flawed generalization to think this is true of every religion - and it's fairly common that people think this is a thing that all religions do.

Religions have got a set of traditions and rituals which lack generic beliefs?

Waitwhat? My point is only that the idea that religions are sets of beliefs one has to believe in order to be a member of them does not apply to all of them.

It was just a my suggestion for the definition. I don't think there is a precise boundary between religion and paranormal (they are often mixed).
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Re: The Paranormal, the Nuts and the Stupid!

#19  Postby Matt_B » Jun 07, 2012 4:01 pm

jerome wrote:(Psychologists are also far less likely to believe in ESP than physicists: again, try and explain that. :) I'm not sure i have the answer to this one!).


Because we physicists know that it's possible!:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_pseudo-telepathy

OK, that's not telepathy as a psychologist would understand it, but physics offers a considerable array of mechanisms through which apparently paranormal phenomena could be explained using purely natural means. That's not to say that there aren't also physicists who believe in the paranormal too, but something tells me that these surveys wouldn't quite be counting the same thing between the two groups.

Besides that, I'd think that psychologists would be more clued up on how ESP can be faked too...
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Re: The Paranormal, the Nuts and the Stupid!

#20  Postby trubble76 » Jun 07, 2012 4:34 pm

jerome wrote:2. Are paranormal believers less intelligent than non-believers?

The short answer according to French (2007) is no. Irwin (2009) writes "the cognitive deficits theory appears to be more successful as a polemical device for sceptical commentators than as an empirically grounded theory of paranormal belief." The issue is that some forms of paranormal belief may or may not be related to lower intelligence -- paranormal beliefs cover a wide spectrum -- but generally no correlation can be found, and I was unable to identify any support for the hypothesis for any given aspect of paranormal belief from Cardena et al. (2000)

The claim originates with well known skeptics, as with 1 above. The first paper to propose the link I have seen referenced is Alcock, J & Otis, L.P. (1980) Critical thinking and belief in the paranormal, Psychological Reports, 46, 479-482. However more recent research has failed to find this link: see Irwin (1991) The reasoning skills of paranormal believers, Journal of Parapsychology, 43, 205-220 and Roe, C. A. (1999). Critical Thinking and Belief in the Paranormal: A re-evaluation. British Journal of Psychology, 90, 85-98. The current position appears to be that paranormal believers are no less intelligent than non believers - in fact paranormal belief appears in the USA to be positively correlated with educational achievement, with the higher your level of academic qualification the more likely you are to believe. I think I can explain that very easily indeed, but I'd welcome suggestions!

(Psychologists are also far less likely to believe in ESP than physicists: again, try and explain that. :) I'm not sure i have the answer to this one!).

However if not less intelligent, or educated, have paranormal believers different reasoning styles? I'll turn to that next once done some work. :)

j x


First off, this is quite interesting. I would have bet that believers in this sort of rubbish would be clearly less gifted intellectually. I neither have the time nor the skill to accurately appraise the papers presented, but if they properly satisfy scientific protocol, then I am willing to accept them. Does this then mean that I admit defeat? No. It is certainly a blow to my position but "stupid" also refers to "foolish", and there are many examples of foolishness from intelligent people. So rather than a chaotic retreat, I withdraw to defend an alternative definition of stupid. My argument here is somewhat circular, insofar as believers in ghosts are foolish by definition. They believe, therefore they are foolish. There is little to no reason to makes leaps of faith into afterlife belief and the belief that souls not only exist but continue to exist long after the brain and body have rotted away to nowt.

Believers might have comparable IQ scores (which saddens me tremendously), but their belief identifies them as fools.
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