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Functions of Paranormal and Related Beliefs
1. Functions of paranormal beliefs: Evolutionary approach- adaptive purpose- enables
individuals to stop worrying and questioning things and so enables them to be more
productive in everyday lives, increasing reproductive success.
2. Critical Point 1: There is a flaw with the evolutionary approach. This is that it ignores
the possibility that paranormal abilities such as ESP and PK may actually exist and
have evolved as they provide an advantage on individuals who possess them.
Although, if this was the case we'd expect to see an increase over the course of
human history, and for the experiences to be linked with positive benefits. However,
McClenon found that students reported more negative than positive paranormal
experiences. As a result of this we can assume the conclusion that it is the belief and
not the actual ability that is adaptive.
3. Psychodynamic explanations- defence mechanisms- used by anxious individuals to
overcome perceived uncertainty and so be able to exert control over their lives,
sense of control-Watt found a significant link between childhood experiences and
the tendency to hold paranormal beliefs, abuse and fantasy proneness- French and
Kerman- recruited ppts with history of abuse and found correlation between
childhood trauma, fantasy proneness and paranormal belief.
4. Critical Point 1: There is some support for the "need for control" explanation.
Henderson found that there was a rise in superstitious belief during the Gulf War in
the areas that were attacked by Iraqi missiles. Therefore, this proves the theory
useful and applicable to real life cases.
5. Functions of related beliefs- religiosity is correlated with paranormal belief- Bishop
Spong, "A major function of religion is to bolster deeply insecure and fearful
6. Psychodynamic explanation- Freud- response to deep emotional conflicts- rituals
give us sense of control over unconscious conflicts, behave like children protected
from acknowledgement of death.
7. Credulity- willingness to believe in something despite minimal evidence- Hood such
behaviour is adaptive at a young age- advantageous in past for children to accept
explanations to avoid danger- led to religious beliefs, same happens for adults.
8. The development of human intellect- Why do people die? - not got scientific
answers- religion provides this.
9. Spiritual healing- rely on placebo effect- increases a person's ability to fight off
infection as it increases their expectation that they will recover- increase likelihood
of surviving and reproducing- adaptive.
10. Critical Point 1: There is conflicting evidence of the view that paranormal beliefs are
linked with religiosity. Beck and Miller found that there was no correlation between
the two variables, whereas other researchers have found strong relationships. One
reason why there is not always a positive correlation is due to the fact that not all
paranormal beliefs form part of religion, UFO's or the occult. Consequently, it is not
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Critical Point 2: There is conflicting evidence about whether religion is adaptive or
not. McCullough and Willoughby found that people who are religious have greater
self-control and Schumaker found they have better physical and mental health.
However, Dennett disagrees and claims that religion is not directly adaptive but is a
by-product of other mental faculties such as Theory of Mind which allows people to
deceive others. As a result of this, we cannot draw any definite conclusions due to
this contradictory research.