It Isn't That Strange: Paranormal Belief and Personality Traits

By Auton, Heather R.; Pope, Jacqueline et al. | Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, January 1, 2003 | Go to article overview

It Isn't That Strange: Paranormal Belief and Personality Traits


Auton, Heather R., Pope, Jacqueline, Seeger, Gus, Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal


This study examined two contrasting views of paranormal belief which suggest, in one camp, that belief in the paranormal is indicative of psychopathology. On the other hand, a number of researchers have disagreed with this viewpoint, suggesting that such belief is not an indicator of psychopathology, but the fulfillment of some other underlying need. This study was designed to assess personality traits of those we would consider high and low believers in parapsychology. One hundred and five participants completed the Paranormal Belief Scale (PBS), (Tobacyk & Milford, 1983) the Anomalous Experience Inventory (AEI), (Kumar, Pekala & Gallagher, 1994) and the Personality Research Form (PRF) (Jackson, 1984) in order to examine the differences among the personality traits of high and low believers in the paranormal. The two commonly used measures of paranormal belief were significantly correlated. Likewise, high believers scored significantly higher on the PRF scales of Aggression and Defendence. There were no differences on any of the other personality scales. The results indicate that high and low believers do not differ on traits considered nonpathological.

Over the past two decades there has been something of a revival of interest in paranormal phenomena within popular culture (Grimmer, 1992). Grimmer reports a 1986 Gallup survey of American youths which found that 46 percent believed in extrasensory perception (ESP), 52 percent in astrology, and 19 percent in witchcraft. According to Banziger and College (1983), 80-90% of the general public has been shown to believe in extrasensory perception (ESP). There have been countless books, magazines, newspaper articles, movies, and television programs devoted to a broad range of paranormal topics, such as UFOs, telepathy, poltergeists, witchcraft and precognition (Grimmer, 1992).

Why is it that some people believe in various aspects of the paranormal while others do not? According to Russell and Jones (1980), the apparent persistence of such beliefs, despite major advances in scientific understanding and education, substantiates their possible function in satisfying some basic psychological need. The majority of previous research examining paranormal belief and personality correlates has taken a skeptical view, which suggests that paranormal believers are psychologically dysfunctional (i.e., psychotic, neurotic, and depressive). More recent studies, however, have begun to explore a nonskeptical view. The current study addressed the relationship between belief in the paranormal and those personality traits that are broadly relevant to the normal functioning of individuals in a wide variety of situations.

Previous research involving the paranormal has used psychopathology scales in order to determine possible personality correlates of believing in the paranormal (Irwin & Green; 1998-99; Tobacyk & Milford, 1983; Tobacyk & Mitchell, 1987; Wolfradt, 1997). Tobacyk and Milford (1987), using a sample of 383 introductory college students, found a small but significant correlation between narcissism and the paranormal beliefs of Psi and Precognition. Neuroticism has also been found to be significantly correlated with an overall Paranormal Belief Scale (PBS) score, Traditional Religious Belief, Psi, Witchcraft, as well as with the Australian Sheep-Goat Scale, which addresses belief in and personal experience of ESP, telepathy, precognition, and life after death. (Thalbourne, Dunbar, & Delin, 1995). Thalbourne, Dunbar, and Delin, using a sample of 169 first-year psychology students, found a positive association between dogmatism and Traditional Religious Belief, Witchcraft, and an overall Paranormal Belief score. Heard and Vyse (1998-99) found a positive relationship between authoritarianism and belief in the paranormal when using the Authoritarianism-Rebellion Scale. However, no relationship between rebelliousness and paranormal belief was found. …

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