Deception, self-deception, superstition and coincidence

Explinations of why people believe in the paranormal

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Deception (AO1)

Pinker (2004) suggests that Deception is a evolutionary 'power', used to manipulate others. The ability to deceive others has been passed on  and is know as Machiavellian intelligence. Deception involves a range of manipulation, tricks, like those used by magicians and fraudulent psychics.

People are not good at detecting deception and will be easier to deceive if face-to-face.

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Deception (AO2)

Wiseman (1995) found evidence to support the hypothesis that vocal cues are more reliable than visual cues when detecting lies. He created 2 versions of his favourite film to Sir Robin Day during a interview, one was true, one wasn't. The interview was shown on TV, put on the radio and put into newspapers. 40,000 people voluntarily responded to which version they thought to be false. 73% of those from the radio were right, 52% who responded to when it was shown on TV we right. This shows that vocal cues are more easier to detect deception. Possibly because it is harder to control vocal behavior.

However, some anomalous experiences can't be caused by deception, such as OBEs. It can also be argued that deception can be harmless. But Wiseman (1997) argued it was not harmless in some cases when people gave huge sums of money to 'psychics', in one extreme case a young man committed suicide after being told by a psychic he would die young.

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Self-deception (AO1)

Evolutionary explanation:

Trivers (1976) suggests that deception and self-deception evolved together and those who can spot deception are at a evolutionary advantage. It is also important to cover their own deception, one method is self deception. If you believe in your own lie it will be harder for others to see through your lies.

Psychodynamic explanation:

Deception is due to emotional attachments to beliefs. It is hard to have contradicting knowledge/beliefs, so Freud argues that we consciously believe one thing and unconsciously believe another thing.

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Self-deception (AO2)

Evolutionary explanation:

This also explains why there are many fraudulent studies in the paranormal field. Suggesting the psychologist start to self-deceive themselves, and believe the findings in their studies, in their desire to find evidence to support their beliefs.

Psychodynamic explanation:

Self-deception is used to help repress certain memories, the over use of the defence mechanisms can lead to the development of mental disorders (according to Freud).

Taylor (2005) argues self-deception is beneficial. Real life can be depressing, therefore self-deception makes real life more manageable, leading to more happy lives.

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Superstition (AO1)

Skinner suggests that operant conditioning is a way we learn, that certain behaviors get reinforced (i.e. by rewards or punishments). Experiences with 'rewards' are repeated, such as taking a lucky object with you to an exam and getting an A, when the pen isn't taken you get a B, then the pen is seen to be 'lucky' and superstition is reinforced. Skinner proposed a experiment to support his theory called "Superstition in the pigeon".

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Superstition (AO2)

"Superstition in the pigeon"

Skinner (1947) took some very hungry pigeons and used a machine to deliver food to the birds at regular intervals. The food timetable didn't effect the pigeons behavior. There seemed to be ritualistic behaviour from the pigeons immediately proceeded the food. One pigeon turned anti-clockwise and another pendulum movement of its head. Skinner argued these movements were reinforced by the delivery of food, as the pigeons seemed to think their movements caused to food to arrive.

However, this is not the same as the superstition of walking under a ladder can cause bad luck. Therefore this theory doesn't give a full  explanation.

Staddon and Simmelhag (1971) repeated Skinners experiment and found similar results. But they found that the strange behavior occurred at other times of the day as well, when food was not given. They concluded that accidental or adventitious reinforcement is not the explanation for superstition (Schur 2008)

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Coincidence (AO1)

Probability misjudgement

Believers in the paranormal tend to underestimate statistical likelihood of events and claim it was something paranormal, rather than it just being coincidence.

E.g. Thinking of someone and it starts to rain - no link. Thinking of a person and they call you - the question of if one event caused the other is asked.

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Coincidence (AO2)

Blackmore and Troscianko (1985) 50 schoolgirls were given 12 examples of random boys and girls invited to a party. The school girls had to decide whether the sample was biased or not. The 'goats' preformed better than the sheep. This shows that 'sheep' are less able to spot a bias sample, so they are more likely to see something out of the ordinary to something paranormal, rather than a coincidence, due to mathematical chance. The small, bias sample was changed  so it was more easy to generalise to the general population.

A second sample of 100 volunteers (aged 12 - 67) were on their understanding of probability of a coin toss, the 'sheep'  preformed worse again. This shows that sheep overlook statistical chances in life and tend to jump to anomalistic explinations.

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Thank you for this. It was exactly what I was looking for.

Carol Mensah


thankoo this is prefect

Chee Wai Chan


Glad to be of service, i also corrected the typos i made ^^ 

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