Magazine article USA TODAY

How to Influence Paranormal Beliefs. (Your Life)

Magazine article USA TODAY

How to Influence Paranormal Beliefs. (Your Life)

Article excerpt

Although they might not be quick to admit it, nine out of 10 American adults believe in some paranormal phenomena, polls have shown. Research from Barry Markovsky, professor of sociology, University of South Carolina, Columbia, demonstrates how people may come to believe in something that seems absurd at face value. He conducted an experiment on the spread of paranormal beliefs that tested "social impact theory," which suggests that behavior and beliefs are strongly affected by the status, proximity, and number of potential influencers. Applied to dubious claims such as astrology, alien abductions, or reincarnation, it shows that belief in such things can be transmitted like a virus through a social system, even when the claim has no basis in fact.

In the experiment, subjects were told "some people believe pyramids have mysterious powers to keep things fresh. For instance, the ancient Egyptians used pyramids as tombs to preserve the bodies of pharaohs." Then, the subjects were asked to judge the relative freshness of two bananas, one stored in a box and the other in a pyramid-shaped container. In actuality, the bananas were virtually identical and were always stored together.

When they made their judgments alone, the subjects rated the two pieces of fruit as equally fresh. In other cases, there was a confederate who posed as a subject, but was part of the study. Confederates always rated the fruit from the pyramid as looking fresher, but otherwise made no attempt to influence the real subjects. …

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