Functions of paranormal beliefs

Theories to the belief in the paranormal

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Psychodynamic functions hypothesis (AO1)

There are 2 reasons for the belief in the paranormal proposed by the Psychodynamic functions hypothesis -

1) Trauma in childhood (e.g. being bullied, physical/sexual abuse, loneliness, etc), this leads to fantasy proness (FT) a defence mechanism used to escape the problems in life, later in life there the belief of the paranormal will be developed.

2) Lack of control in childhood (e.g. parents divorce,  lack of job security, constantly moving home, etc), the child will then 'escape' into their head and use their imagination to generate a feeling of security and control, this will carry on into adulthood.

Irwin (1990) suggests there's a link between traumatic or abusive childhood and paranormal beliefs. FP is a defence mechanism to escape from the harsh reality of real life, in the fantasy world paranormal beliefs develop.

Watt, Watson and Wilson (2007) argue that due to the increased divorce rate and lack of job security over the past centuries the number of people who believe in the paranormal will increase.

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Psychodynamic functions hypothesis (AO2)

Irwin (1992) showed that those who believed in the paranormal, who were judged by independent reviewers, were controlling and assertive to others. This can be because the belief provides control to a child, who needs structure, purpose and familiarity.

French and Kerman (1996) also support the theory that FP is possibly the result of being abused as a child. They got together some people who had been abused as children and found a association between childhood trauma , FP and paranormal beliefs.

However, cause and effect can't be shown in correlational data.

Retrospective questionnaires which were used also raise the question of how accurate the memory is and whether abuse did occur. The internal validity can also be attacked, as participants may be subject to demand characteristics or/and social desirability. A longitudinal study would be more helpful in providing information.

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Cultures play a major role in the paranormal beliefs. For example, Non-western cultures see and interpret things differently, the bright light seen in NDEs (Near Death Experiences) may give the same feeling of calmness, but may be interpreted as a different God(s).

In many westerns who have NDE generally say they see Jesus, with stigmata in his hands from where he was crucified and describe him with his typical image, hair to his shoulder, short beard, as a white man, etc. However, it would not be possible to crucify someone by putting nails in their hands, nails would be put in the wrist, also there is no historical image of Jesus, and Jesus is more likely to have been black, rather than white.

In india, NDEs usually involve Yamraj (the hindu god of death) rather than jesus or God.

Osis and Haraladsson (1977) reported that out of 440 termally ill americans and indians, 91% reported seeing deceased relatives, 140 reported seeing a religious figure. There was no case of a christian seeing the hindu god or of indians seeing Jesus of God.

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Irwin (1993) looked at several cultures and found a difference between cultures and paranormal beliefs. Finish were found to low belief in witchcraft and superstitions, but high belief in extraordinary life forms, Polish had low beliefs in witchcraft but high belief in ESP and PK, etc.  Irwin concluded that paranormal beliefs are influenced by culture.

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