Monthly Archives: February 2016

Believers and Skeptics: a large-scale test

I was recently browsing Google Scholar and came across an interesting publication. Titled Paranormal psychic believers and skeptics: a large-scale test of the cognitive differences hypothesis, the article was written by Stephen J. Gray and David A. Gallo, both affiliated with Department of Psychology, University of Chicago.
The essence of the article is this (taken from the abstract):

Why do some people believe, while others are skeptical? According to the cognitive differences hypothesis, individual differences in the way people process information about the world can contribute to the creation of psychic beliefs, such as differences in memory accuracy (e.g., selectively remembering a fortune teller’s correct predictions) or analytical thinking (e.g., relying on intuition rather than scrutinizing evidence). While this hypothesis is prevalent in the literature, few have attempted to empirically test it. Here, we provided the most comprehensive test of the cognitive differences hypothesis to date.

The Brain from a Paranormal PerspectiveI was intrigued, so I pulled up the full article and read more. The primary goal of the study was to conduct a comprehensive test of the memory distortion hypothesis; they achieved this by testing the prediction that there would be individual differences in memory accuracy and distortion between those who believed in paranormal/psychic phenomenon and those who did not. The researchers also looked for potential links between psychic beliefs and measures of analytical thinking and personality characteristics.

The test was done through a combination of laboratory and online tasks and through multiple memory measures. They included both episodic memory and autobiographical memory tasks. Working memory was also tested, as it’s been linked to the belief/disbelief in other studies.

Rather than drone on and on about the testing process, etc, I’ll simply link you to the article (pdf here) and give you their summary of results (emphasis mine):

Our cognitive testing showed that there were no consistent group differences on tasks of episodic memory distortion, autobiographical memory distortion, or working memory capacity, but skeptics consistently outperformed believers on several tasks tapping analytical or logical thinking as well as vocabulary.

These findings demonstrate cognitive similarities and differences between these groups and suggest that differences in analytical thinking and conceptual knowledge might contribute to the development of psychic beliefs. We also found that psychic belief was associated with greater life satisfaction, demonstrating benefits associated with psychic beliefs and highlighting the role of both cognitive and noncognitive factors in understanding these individual differences.

Rather interesting results. I hope to see a continuation of their research; perhaps examining those who score equally on these tasks on a believer/nonbeliever basis to see if there are any other differences between the two groups.

What do you think?