Tag Archives: Paranormal

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