Psychodynamic functions hypothesis (Irwin 1992) - states that belief in the paranormal is an unconscious coping mechanism enabling control of that which has become uncontrollable in life. [We may be talking, not only about repression as a defense mechanism, but also sublimation - negative energy put onto an object and displacement - negative energy is put onto a person.]
Perkins and Allen (2006) predicted that those reporting physical abuse in childhood would score highly for belief in those paranormal experiences associated with control e.g. psi, precognition and spiritualism (these are about, in some measure, controlling your future when you have failed to control your past) - but not with others such as belief in aliens.
Internal and external locus of control - Common sense says that those with an external locus of control would be more associated with paranormal belief/experience. However, there is contradictory evidence from studies about this:
Irwin (2005) said belief in the paranormal could stem from any childhood experience characterised by lack of control e.g. living with older siblings, authoritarian parents, moving house a lot, divorce
Watts et al (2007) tested students from Edinburgh uni on belief in paranormal, correlated against perceived childhood control; found a negative correlation
Mode of thought (Evolutionary theory)
Lindeman (1998) puts forward 2 modes of thought:
- Rational: Slow, deliberate, unemotional, generally accurate, akin to scientific reasoning, recent evolutionary development.
- Experiential: A type of thinking based on incomplete info, automatic, emotional. Any beliefs based on this are much more resistant to change. This mode is based on paranormal belief.
IDA - Thinking like this is relatd to the automatic stress response "fight or flight". The necessity to make immediate decisions for survival pruposes.
Cultural significance of paranormal and related be
a. Blaisedell and Denniston (2002) investigated 122 world cultures, and analysis showed that culture and paranormal belief were inextricably bound up together. So, for instance, belief in the afterlife/reincarnation, although current in all cultures, always stuck to the premises and dictates of a particular culture/religion. E.G. Roe (2001) found that the narratives of North American Indians talking about NDEs would include cultural icons familiar to them (snakes, eagles, arrows, moccasins). In other cultures, if a God is mentioned then Hindus didn't report seeing Jesus and Christians didn't report seeing Ganesh.
IDA This points up an anomaly between the paranormal and that which is normal, and it is the fact that they are always linked together; with one being used to describe the other. E.g. The rise in the number of UFO sightings in the 50s and 60s as an expression of the fear of the communist threat.
IDA - Ethics, Challenging cherished beliefs
Given that paranormal and related beliefs often seem to serve beneficial psychological functions for those that adopt them, is it ethically justified for psychologists to challenge such beliefs?
Most scientists would probably answer this question affirmatively, arguing that science is more concerned with the quest for truth rather than happiness based on unfounded beliefs.
IDA Cultural Bias, Western science biased...
Many parapsychologists would probably answer this question positively, agreeing with Milton's 1994 assertion that 'there are legitimate areas of scientific research that are being neglected for non-scientific reasons; that a subtle form of scientific censorship is being applied to such research; and that, as a result, important scientific discoveries may be ignored or even lost to us entirely' The prevalent belief amongst scientists is that parapsychology is a pseudoscience may be an example of such bias. Of course, even if such bias does exist, it does not follow automatically that paranormal forces really do exist, but the appropriate attitude to adopt to paranormal claims is the same as any other scientific claim: one of open-minded scepticism.