Author Archives: Adam K. Fetterman

The season for reason

By, Adam K. Fetterman
This Season, Celebrate REASON”, reads an American Atheists billboard by the Lincoln Tunnel. This is another in a long line of billboards and signs reminding people that atheists are out there. The apparent goal of this campaign is to let “closeted” atheists know that they are not alone. This seems particularly necessary during the holiday season as atheists may feel more like they are in the minority than other times of the year. For some, this time of the year requires them to pretend to be religious for fear of social reprisal. Therefore, being reminded (e.g. by billboards) that they are not alone can definitely have positive effects. However, as to be expected, the religious community (mostly Christian) is not responding with acceptance and positivity (though some are). Some have said the billboards are disrespectful and attacking. So, in response, religious organizations are putting up billboards of their own. According to the New York Times, there appears to be a quite interesting sign battle going on in Texas. The atheists’ sign reads “Millions of Americans are Good Without God” on the side of the bus, followed by a truck with a sign reading “I Still Love You – God” and another claiming “2.1 billion Christians are good with God”. While it would be a fairly funny scene to witness, it hits on an old argument about where morality comes from.

For many years, many have assumed that religion is the foundation or source of morality or pro-social behavior. In a recent review, Preston, Ritter, and Hernandez (2010) indicate that religion does not have a monopoly on morality and pro-social behavior. In fact, they indicate that religiosity only predicts moral or pro-social behavior in specific contexts and can actually predict increased anti-social behavior in certain contexts. The authors go on to discuss the differences between religious and supernatural beliefs in regards to moral and pro-social behaviors.

Another researcher arguing that religion is not the ultimate source of morality and pro-social behavior is Sam Harris. He has found (as well as others) quite compelling evidence of naturalistic or evolutionary foundations of morality and pro-social behavior. In fact, I have made arguments about certain motivations that would lead all people to be moral, in previous posts. In the end, it appears to be pretty clear that one can be “Good without God”. With some of the reactions to these billboards (e.g. defacing and anger), it seems apparent that religiosity does automatically make one moral.

More Sacramento-area atheist billboards are vandalized. By, Bill Lindelof, Sacto 9-1-1

Dueling billboards face off in Christmas controversy. By, Laura Dolan, CNN

Atheist bus ads rattle Fort Worth. By, James C. McKinley Jr., New York Times.

Sam Harris’ Website

Preston, J. L, Ritter, R. S., & Hernandez, J. I. (2010). Principles of religious prosociality: A review and reformulation. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4, 574-590.

Read all of Adam K. Fetterman’s posts here.

Belief in the supernatural creates false memories in kids.

By, Adam K. Fetterman
In my previous post I gave a possible explanation of why so called “paranormal researchers” or “ghost hunters” attribute randomness to the paranormal. I also mentioned that I would have an upcoming post on why people are motivated to believe in the paranormal. However, I came across an article about the memories of supernatural experiences in children, so that post will be put on the backburner for now. The reason this article struck me is because I recently have been watching a spin-off (?) of Paranormal State called Psychic Kids. The show employs “psychic” Chip Coffey to help “psychic” children develop and embrace their “psychic abilities” in order to not be afraid anymore. In the episodes of this show, and others such as Paranormal State, the children and adults are quite convinced that what they have seen in the past was real, and paranormal. This is because they probably have created false-memories of these events based on their supernatural beliefs.

According to the research of Principe and Smith (2007), children who hold beliefs of the supernatural are more likely to construct memory errors that comport with their paranormal beliefs. Specifically, they found that children who believe in the tooth fairy were more likely to recall supernatural experiences surrounding the loss of a tooth, than those that do not believe. That is, they have constructed “real” memories, falsely. These findings likely explain why the children and adults from these paranormal shows appear completely convinced that their experiences were real.

It may not seem harmful to believe in the tooth fairy or some paranormal activity in a way that does not affect one’s life or when it is an adult making their own choices. However, it may seem a little more worrisome if the children show some psychological distress as a result. As Skepchick and PZ Myers have pointed out, these shows and psychics, such as Psychic Kids and Chip Coffey, may be preying on children with blatant psychological problems. That is, they seem to be feeding these problems by unscientifically “confirming” these false memories, which could increase their anxiety, fear, and social isolation. All of this for our entertainment(?).

Still coming: Why people are motivated to believe in the paranormal.

A&E’s Psychic Kids website.

Psychic Kids. By, Jen at Skepchick.org

Bad move A&E. By, PZ Myers at Pharyngula

Principe, G. & Smith, E. (2007). The tooth, the whole tooth, and nothing but the tooth: How belief in the Tooth Fairy can engender false memories. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 22, 625-642

That is probably not a ghost, it’s probably just randomness.

By, Adam K. Fetterman

Poster design by Gravillis Inc.

A recent trend in cable television is paranormal investigation shows. For example, the SyFy channel has Ghost Hunters and A&E has Paranormal State. The point of these shows is to investigate claims of the paranormal and then confirm or debunk them. While certain shows do a fairly good job of at least “trying” to debunk the claims, others make no clear attempt. For instance, many, if not all, of these shows feature a time of “investigation” in which the main “characters” try to communicate with the spirit world. They do so by asking the “ghosts” to make a noise or make themselves appear. Usually they will come up with some sort of noise or evidence and conclude that, “indeed, there is a presence!” The first problem here is that, in order to properly debunk such events, one must not believe in them in the first place, or at least have some education in explaining psychological or natural experiences. However, the main issue is that a truly skeptical person will take the evidence of a random noise in response to a question as chance occurrence that is more likely to be explained statistical randomness. One the other hand, a paranormal believer would dismiss that event as chance and explain it paranormally.

This is what is known as the conjunction fallacy. According to Rogers, Davis, & Fisk (2008), indeed those who believe in the paranormal, are more susceptible to the conjunction fallacy than non-believers. Furthermore, they found that those less educated in math, statistics and psychology were more susceptible as well. Therefore, when two not-so-rare events occur (i.e. talking and a bump in the night), paranormal believers make the error in concluding that both events occurring simultaneously was too improbable to be coincidence. Based on previous findings, Rogers and colleagues suggest that this happens because those that believe in the paranormal have less understanding of chance and randomness. In closing, it is obvious that these shows are for purely entertainment value and most people would not tune in if they didn’t find “evidence” of the paranormal. However, it does seem troublesome to perpetuate a lack of rational and logical reasoning skills.

In a couple weeks: Why some are motivated to believe in the paranormal?

Researching the paranormal with Ryan Buell. By, Jennifer Vazquez – The Leader

A&E’s Paranormal State website.

SyFy’s Ghost Hunters website.

Rogers, P., Davis T., & Fisk, J. (2009). Paranormal belief and susceptibility of the conjunction fallacy. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23, 524-542

Jesus made me vote that way.

By, Adam K. Fetterman
It is Election Day 2010 and there are a variety of motivations people have to vote and how to vote. Many are angry and some are anxious and uneasy, according to Holly Bailey. Many conservative voters are angry at the Democrat controlled house and senate. Many liberals are upset about the lack of hope and change promised to them by President Barack Obama, regardless of how many of his promises he has acted on. Regardless of party, many voters are basically upset with the state of the country. For these reasons, people have a motivation to vote and to vote in a certain way. However, these may not be the only things influencing the way they vote.

According to research by Abraham Rutchick (2010), the place in which one votes can have a significant effect on the way one votes. What he found was that when voting in a church or exposed to Christian imagery, people tend to vote more conservatively. For example, people voting in a church tended to vote for conservative candidates and ban same-sex marriages, than those voting in secular locations (Rutchick, 2010). This is a very important finding. Churches are particularly popular polling locations. It has always seemed odd to vote in churches, but until now there has been no reason to not vote in churches. They are in the communities and can hold a lot of people. However, given the evidence of the influence, it seems that voting should be conducted in secular locations, away from the biasing influence of the churches. If not for this reason, then at least of the separation of church and state, even if the reasons are not apparent.

2010: A campaign year driven by conflicted emotions. By, Holly Bailey

Rutchick, A. M. (2010). Deus ex machina: The influence of polling place on voting behavior. Political Psychology, 31, 209-225.

Homer is just like me!

By, Adam K. Fetterman
Catholicism has not had a good last couple years/decades. This has been particularly true recently with the scandals involving the pope and child abuse. So, it would seem like a good idea to take some focus off these situations and lighten things up a bit. This is what they have done recently. According, to the Time website, the Vatican’s official newspaper has declared Homer Simpson as a Catholic. This is odd to most fans because Homer, and the rest of the Simpson flock (minus Lisa who proclaims to be a Buddhist), are clearly and openly protestant. Specifically with Homer, some could probably argue that he is not even a protestant. They use a couple examples of why Homer is a Catholic, but most appear to be reflective of Christianity in general, not to mention that most of the Catholicism references in the show are mocking in nature. Why might someone, or thing, come to such an odd belief, such as Homer Simpson being of their religion?

One possible explanation may come from what is known as the “false consensus effect” (Ross, Greene, & House, 1977). According to a review by Baumeister, Dale, & Sommer (1998), this effect is a type of projection in which individuals have a bias to think that others’ traits are similar to their own. So, it may, for whatever motivation, be that the Vatican newspaper writers are projecting their own traits or beliefs on what they perceive as a well liked popular figure, and Homer is definitely that. Another weird thing that people might notice is that Family Guy’s Griffin family is actually Catholic, but the Vatican decided against mentioning them. However, it probably would not be considered a positive to associate oneself with a show as “controversial” as that one.

Before someone comments that the Vatican paper was arguing that Homer represents what a good Catholic should be. This may be so, but that was not clear in the Time piece linked here. Furthermore, one would have to ignore a considerable amount of aspects of the show to consider The Simpsons as reflecting good Catholic values. However, relative to the Griffins in Family Guy, one could see how they would like to associate themselves with the “tamer”, and more loved, Simpsons family. Don’t we all?

“Homer Simpson: A True Catholic?” By Megan Friedman, Time Magazine

Baumeister et al. (1998). Freudian defense mechanisms and empirical findings in modern social psychology: Reaction formation, projection, displacement, undoing, isolation, sublimation, and denial. Journal of Personality, 66, 1081-1124.