Information Processing May Influence Paranormal Beliefs

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New research is shining a spotlight into how paranormal or psychic beliefs are formed in the brain.

For researchers, two concepts were of particular interest in how paranormal or psychic beliefs form: memory accuracy and the association between psychic beliefs and critical thinking.

Memory accuracy, where memory error or distortions occur, is thought to play a major role in the formation of paranormal beliefs due to bias in remembering thoughts or memories that support psychic beliefs, researchers suggested.

As to the role analytical and critical thinking plays, researchers found that psychic beliefs are linked with low analytical thinking.

Essentially, participants who passed the screening for each of the three studies numbered 731, 807, and 103; participant numbers were decreased during each study to meet matching variables such as age and educational knowledge.

In the follow-up phase of the study, memory accuracy and distortion, analytical thinking, dissociative experiences and a need for cognition were passed on to 42 believers and 42 skeptics. A handful of different assessments were used to measure these attributes.

Additionally, working memory was also analyzed in 56 believers and 59 skeptics utilizing assessments in regards to the short-term memory.

In a third study, memory accuracy and distortion, working memory, analytical thinking and dissociative experiences were measured by researchers in 47 believers and 48 skeptics.

Questions about Darwin’s theory of evolution were among the many asked by researchers during the study.

The study’s findings suggested that the two groups performed similarly in basic memory skills, however, skeptics were more likely to analyze and evaluate data better than believers.

Furthermore, skeptics performed better than believers in four critical thinking areas which include logic, a conspiracy questionnaire, a remote associations task, and an argument evaluation test.

Although critical thinking and conceptual knowledge play a major role in paranormal psychic beliefs, researchers argue, other factors such as sociocultural and psychological factors, may influence the brain into creating paranormal beliefs.

Researchers noted that close to 70% of believers reported psychic beliefs consistent with those of a family member or friend.

Environmental influences can definitely take a toll on the mental health of any individual, researchers suggested.

Paranormal beliefs have been tied to “magical thinking”, a symptom of various mental disorders including schizotypal personality disorder and schizophrenia, who are preoccupied with paranormal and superstitious beliefs.

Magical thinking is seen as the opposite of logical thinking and can cause a distorted belief system from forming for those who think this way. Superstitious beliefs are more common during times of excessive stress.

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Andrew is a freelance health and science journalist from Canberra, Australia.