Increasing Prevalence of Paranormal Belief

Belief in paranormal phenomena is widespread everywhere around the world including colleges and universities. There is evidence from the US that belief rates are increasing. According to Lindeman and Aarnio (2006) more than a third of Americans believed in psychic powers and extrasensory perception at that time.

Recent figures produced by the Chapman University Survey of American Fears Wave 5 (2018) who explored the fears of a US random sample of 1,190 adults. The sample were asked about their level of fear about 94 different phenomena such as crime, the government, the environment, disasters, personal anxieties, technology and they were also asked about their paranormal beliefs. The sample showed high and, compared to previous years, increasing rates of paranormal beliefs ranging from belief in aliens and psychic powers to Bigfoot and haunted houses. The results are shown in Figure 2.1.

Screen Shot 2018-11-27 at 16.03.37Prevalence of beliefs in the paranormal in a US sample in 2018.

57% of US people believe in hauntings, and in Atlantis

Currently the most common paranormal belief in the US is spirit haunting (57.7%), followed by the belief that ancient, advanced civilizations, such as Atlantis once existed (56.9%). More than two out of five Americans (41.4%) believe that that aliens visited Earth in our ancient past and more than a third believe aliens are visiting now (35.1%). US Americans are the most skeptical about fortune tellers, with only approximately 17.2% believing that others can see the future.

Paranormal beliefs are the norm in the US

From seven different paranormal items only a quarter of US Americans (24.1%) do not hold any of the seven beliefs.  Slightly more than 75% of US Americans believe in at least one paranormal phenomenon, as listed below:

Number of Paranormal Beliefs (2018) Percent
No paranormal beliefs 24.1%
1 paranormal belief 15.2%
2 paranormal beliefs 14.7%
3 paranormal beliefs 12.0%
4 paranormal beliefs 12.4%
5 paranormal beliefs 9.2%
6 paranormal beliefs 7.5%
All 7 paranormal beliefs 4.8%

Rising levels of paranormal belief

The Chapman University Survey has included the same set of questions about paranormal beliefs in three waves of the survey. It is striking is how rapidly such beliefs are rising. Belief in six of the seven paranormal items increased between 2017 and 2018, the only exception being the belief that fortune tellers and psychics can foresee the future. All seven items have risen in levels of belief since 2016. US citizens in 2018 are fourteen percent more likely to believe that aliens once visited the earth than they were in 2016. US people have become seven percent more likely to believe in Bigfoot in only two years. It is uncertain what is causing these changes in belief prevalence.

Paranormal Beliefs

(2016-2018)

2016 2017 2018 Change 2016-2018
Ancient, advanced civilizations, such as Atlantis, once existed 39.6 55.0 56.9% 17.3%
Aliens have visited Earth in our ancient past 27.0 35.0 41.4% 14.4%
Places can be haunted by spirits 46.6 52.3 57.7% 11.1%
Aliens have come to Earth in modern times 24.7 26.2 35.1% 10.4%
Bigfoot is a real creature 13.5 16.2 20.7% 7.2%
Some people can move objects with their minds 19.1 25.0 26.2% 7.1%

Paranormal beliefs in the UK

Castro, Burrows and Wooffitt (2014) surveyed a nationally representative sample of 4,096 adults aged 16 years and over across Great Britain in 2009. They found that 37 per cent of British adults reporting at least one paranormal experience and that women, middle-aged or individuals resident in the South West are more likely to report such experiences.

A study in a northern English metropolitan university by Dagnall et al. (2016) included 1215 adults, 75.7% (920) of whom were female and 24.3% (295) were male. The most frequently reported subjective paranormal experiences (SPEs) were ESP (23%), astrology (15%), haunting (14%), and contact with the dead (13%).  The majority who reported ESP (73%), Haunting (69%) and Witchcraft (67%) related experiences, recalled more than one experience. Incidence of PK (46% vs. 54%), Contact with the Dead (46% vs. 54%), and Astrology (44% vs. 56%) contained roughly equal proportions reporting single vs. multiple experiences.

Of the respondents claiming an SPE, 43% reported one experience type, while 57% reported different types of SPEs. Within multiple experiencers, 94% identified between 2-5 experience types and 6% more than 5 experience types.

It is logical to expect that belief in the paranormal would tend to be based on personal experiences and belief without any confirmatory subjective experience would differ in kind. We discuss the social and cognitive factors that are hypothesised to influence paranormal beliefs in later posts.

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