Links between paranormal beliefs and cognitive function described by 40 years of research


In a review of 71 studies that explored the links between belief in paranormal phenomena and cognitive function, most findings align with the hypothesis that these beliefs are associated with cognitive differences or deficits. Charlotte Dean and colleagues from the University of Hertfordshire (UK) present this assessment in the open access journal PLOS ONE.

For several decades, researchers have examined potential links between cognitive functioning and belief in paranormal phenomena, such as psychokinesis, hauntings, and clairvoyance. However, approximately 30 years have passed since the last non-systematic review of this literature. To provide up-to-date information on the results and quality of studies on this topic, Dean and colleagues systematically identified and assessed 70 published studies and one unpublished doctoral dissertation produced between 1980 and 2020.

The 71 studies explored a range of cognitive functions, such as reasoning ability, thinking style and memory. Overall, the results align with the hypothesis that beliefs in paranormal phenomena are associated with differences or deficits in cognitive function. For example, a particularly consistent association has been found between paranormal beliefs and an intuitive thinking style.

The review found that most of the 71 studies were of good methodological quality and the quality improved over time; for example, most had clear objectives and appropriate study plans. However, some areas for improvement emerged; for example, many studies lacked discussion of their own methodological limitations, and undergraduate students made up a large proportion of study participants, meaning that the results do not necessarily apply to the general population.

The authors note that no specific profile of cognitive functioning for paranormal believers has emerged from this literature. They suggest that future research could not only address the methodological weaknesses they observed, but also explore the possibility that paranormal beliefs may be associated with a more global difference in cognition, which could help explain why previous studies found links to seemingly disparate types of cognitive knowledge. dysfunction.

“Four decades of research suggests that belief in the paranormal is linked to our degree of cognitive flexibility and fluid intelligence; however, methodological improvements in future research are needed to deepen our understanding of the relationship,” the authors state.

Republished with kind permission from PLOS ONE.

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