This is an essay I wrote a few years ago. Social psychologists have been trying to prove for some time that belief in the paranormal stems from social pressure
This paper is a review of the article “Social Influences on Paranormal Belief: Popular Versus Scientific Support” published by the Journal Current Research in Social Psychology. In this article the hypothesis with which the researchers operated was based on the idea that beliefs in the paranormal are largely attributable to social influence: a belief that is held by a large number of people is more likely to influence an individual, than beliefs that only a small number of people adhere (Ridolfo, Baxter, & Lucas, 2010). The authors also expected to find that the predominant views of scientists do not impact people with regard to their beliefs in the paranormal (Ridolfo, Baxter, & Lucas, 2010).
In the study, the authors used four different groups of people and exposed to them to different alleged beliefs about the paranormal (Ridolfo, Baxter, & Lucas, 2010). For instance, one group was exposed to the idea that the majority of the public believes in the paranormal and that the scientific community rejects the belief (Ridolfo, Baxter, & Lucas, 2010). Another group was told that the majority of the public believes in the paranormal and that the scientific community also believes in it (Ridolfo, Baxter, & Lucas, 2010).
According to the authors, the results of the study were very difficult to interpret based on the fact that the mean scores (which were based on a 7-point scale) of all four groups were so similar: “4.58, 4.50, 3.58, 4.80” (Ridolfo, Baxter, & Lucas, 2010, para. 24).
The following is an excerpt of the statistical portion of the research study;
Condition 1 (25% of public believes; science rejects): 4.58 (SD = 1.92)
Condition 2 (90% of public believes; science rejects): 4.50 (SD = 1.60)
Condition 3 (25% of public believes; science accepts): 3.58 (SD = 1.84)
Condition 4 (90% of public believes; science accepts): 4.80 (SD = 1.70)
(Ridolfo, Baxter, & Lucas, 2010, para. 25).
The authors believe their hypothesis was confirmed because they found that despite the similarity in mean scores they were able to establish that participants were “especially likely to reject claims that are unpopular but accepted by science” (Ridolfo, Baxter, & Lucas, 2010, para. 25).
The fact that the mean scores of each group were so similar appears to have been a somewhat unexpected result because although the beginning of the essay produced a strong argument in favor of their hypothesis: in their discussion of the research the researchers explained that their evidence was only “relatively strong” (Ridolfo, Baxter, & Lucas, 2010, para. 27). The authors presented a number of possible reasons as to why the mean scores were unable to more effectively support their hypothesis but explained that their suggestions were “purely speculative” (Ridolofo, Baxter, & Lucas, 2010, para. 32).
Ultimately, in my opinion, because the statistics compiled by the researchers demonstrated no serious differences it is difficult to determine any possible meaning with regard to the results: whether or not the participants believed the majority of the public, believed something or did not believe in something, appeared to have no impact on their own personal beliefs toward the paranormal.
Ridolfo, H., Baxter, A., & Lucas, J. (2010). Social influences on paranormal belief: popular belief versus scientific support. Journal of Current Research in Social Psychology. 15(3).