When it comes to drafting messages and creating change, belief plays a major role. Sometimes, others’ beliefs make sense to us. Other times? Not so much.
If you’ve ever wondered why some people believe in ghosts and other spooky stuff (or why people question your belief in those things!), you might enjoy this article from Science Focus:
Ghostbusters: A psychologist explains why we believe in the paranormal
First up are a couple of somewhat surprising facts:
- That “45 percent of Americans believe in ghosts,” and that
- “British people are more likely to have faith in spooky spirits than the existence of God” [the article links to sources for both]
Since that’s a fair number of people, no matter how you look at it, it seems worthy to dive deeper into why we believe in things that we can’t prove!
We’re then introduced to Richard Wiseman, Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, who tells us there are two drivers of our paranormal predilections:
- Personal experience [which a lot of us apparently “experience after the loss of a loved one”
- Popular media [which, though unexplained in the article, I’d guess makes the experience of the paranormal feel simultaneously more common (other people have experienced this, too!) and more real (I can see images of this, even if it’s CGI!)]
On the second point, I love this observation of Wiseman’s:
- “With photographs, for example, there used to be many double exposures but not so many today. Those sorts of ghosts have gone away with the arrival of camera phones.” [Emphasis mine. It’s kind of nuts that a whole category of ghosts have just “gone away” now that the means of producing them (actual film) isn’t used as much. But now I really want to see someone “catch” an image of a ghost on a phone!]
Wiseman explains that there are two traits particularly associated with the belief in ghosts:
- Our pattern-driven human nature: “We want to imagine a world that doesn’t have pain or suffering, where our loved ones are still with us…. And the price we pay for seeing patterns that are there, is occasionally going into overdrive and seeing patterns that aren’t there.” [This is common to all of us, which probably explains the high levels of belief]
- Individual levels of creativity. A 2013 University of British Columbia study “concluded that people with a higher tendency to attribute human traits to non-human objects (anthropomorphising) were also more likely to believe in ghosts.” [Makes sense to me—if you think non-human objects have spirits, why wouldn’t you think spirits existed past death, as well?]
- Across the board, Wiseman says, people who believe in these things are “open-minded, creative, quite high in ability to be absorbed in a situation like a play or a film, to identify patterns.”
But there’s a dark side to that belief, as the article goes on to explain. We’re told about a study by Dr. James Houran that linked belief in the paranormal to what’s known as “priming.” Priming is essentially planting the seed of an idea, often unbeknownst to the person being primed. It plays on our pattern-seeking behavior.
While this next bit is not from the article, it can help you understand priming (this is from the book Sleights of Mind by Stephen L. Macknik, Susana Martinez-Conde, and Sandra Blakeslee:
- “Answer the following questions out loud and quickly. Don’t stop to think about your answer.
- What color is snow?
- What color are clouds?
- What color is whipped cream?
- What color are polar bears?
- What do cows drink?
- If you said cows drink milk, you were primed by the previous questions to choose something white (cows drink water, Farmer John)”
[That gets me every time, and I know it’s a trick! Sigh.]
And now, back to the article!
- Dr. Houran “‘took two groups of people around a disused cinema,’ explains Wiseman. ‘He told one group it was an architectural tour and they experienced nothing anomalous. He told the other it was haunted and, lo and behold, some people in the group started to experience things.’”
- Don’t miss this: “‘When there’s ambiguity, suggestion can tell you how to perceive, and how to report what you’re experiencing. Magicians and psychics use it all the time.’”
As the article points out, this kind of belief is also fertile ground for believing in conspiracy theories—another form of believing in something that isn’t there, but for some, feels like it should be.
Ultimately, though, there’s something wonderful about our human ability to believe. I loved this observation by Wiseman that closes out the article:
- “If you look at the great scientific advances, like putting someone on the Moon or coming up with a vaccine for COVID in months, to do that you have to believe you can do something that’s pretty close to impossible. I think that capability to believe in something, even though the evidence is minimal, allows us to do amazing things. And every once in a while, ghosts lead us astray. But you can’t have one without the other. It’s the price we pay for doing amazing things.”
How you could use it…
This is another one of those “two for the price of one” swipefile articles. The subject matter is interesting enough—and those studies useful enough—to be great illustrations on their own in some future presentation or content of yours.
But it’s also an important look into what goes on in our very human minds when confronted with things that don’t make immediate sense to us: we start looking for an explanation that does make sense, even if there’s no proof beyond our own belief.
While some have used that tendency for bad and nefarious purposes—conspiracy theories, predatory psychics, etc.—it’s important to understand, and validate, the very good reasons why people hold the beliefs they do.
That helps you understand why people may or may not be ready to believe in and act on your message or why they’re holding onto a belief that doesn’t make sense to you. And having that kind of understanding can only make your messages, and maybe even you, even better.It's important to understand, and validate, the very good reasons why people hold the beliefs they do. Click To Tweet
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