Psychology of Deception, Self Deception, Superstition & Coincidence

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  • Created by: xecila
  • Created on: 16-06-13 14:25


a. Delanay (1987) Case of "Tim" the 17y.o. spoon bender. The first trials in this study were "successful", however it was found that they hadn't been controlled properly. Later, trials also appeared successful, but it was later found the apparatus has been tampered with. Finally, Tim was filmed with a hidden camera and found tampering with the equipment. He said he wanted to see if he could deceive researchers. 

b. Wiseman (2001) fake psychics often say their powers come and go (e.g. Uri Gellar)

c. Marks (2000) refers to subjective validation as an example of distorted reasoning. It is "when two unrelated events are perceived to be related because a belief, expectancy or hypothesis demands or requires a relationship" e.g. performing rituals before sporting events. There is no real relationship between ritual and success, but an individuals set of beliefs demand that there is. They expect to lose the spoting event if they dont complete the ritual. 

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Self Deception

Is there a link between deceiving oneself and the paranormal? 

Irwin (2002) in a study, Australian university students filled out a questionnaire about self-deception and about paranormal belief. The latter category gave 2 scores:

  • Traditional beliefs (witchcraft, the devil etc)
  • New Age beliefs (parapsychology, astrology)

There was no correlation between self-deception and traditional beliefs, but there was between self-deception and new age beliefs. It was negative: The less self-deceptive, the more New Age beliefs they had. 

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In the same way that childhood trauma brought about the need to control something in life, and that thing was anomalous belief/experience, then superstition might be linked to function. For instance, belief in the power of astrology gives the believer the illusion of some sort of the control over future events, making life a little more predictable, therefore less dangerous. An example which encompasses both these ideas is that of the calendar employed by the Mayan civilisation. This was not only a calendar of dates, but was a way of predicting the future AND a way for the Mayan hierarchy to control the people by piloting their movements for the calendar year. 

a. Skinner (1948) Pigeons superstitious behaviour - 8 hungry pigeons placed in Skinner boxes for a few minutes per day. They received food pellets every 5 seconds regardless of what they were doing. Towards the end of the conditioning phase, the length of time between each delivery of the pellets increased. 6/8 pigeons began to show repetitive behaviour between delivery of food pellets (head tossing and swinging, hopping and turning in an anticlockwise circle) that were not present before the study. When the 5 second gap gradually increased to 60 seconds, the movements became frantic as if the delivery of the food depended on them doing it. Skinner believed this is how human superstitions evolved; we keep a series of behaviours going until we receive award (e.g. not walking under ladders so we can arrive at work safely). (THIS IS AN IDA: BEHAVIORISM & SUPERSTITION)

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Superstition Part II Lehmann (1898)

b. Lehmann (1898)  tested what was visible to those participating in the seance using white or red lighting. L then asked ps to select a line from a book. Ps were shown unintelligible scrawl on a b-board and many claimed the scrawl was actually the line from the book. L believed that either:

  • Error leads directly to superstition - some believe something exists (e.g. UFOs) and this is backed up by apparant sightings by others, that gets passed on. 
  • Error leads indirectly to superstition - e.g Victorians believed bad would follow a comet sighting, belief was made worse by selectively forgetting when anything good happened. 


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Superstition Part III

c. Lindeman and Aarnio (2007). Finnish volunteers were given questionnaires to assess analytical and intuitive thinking, against superstitious beliefs. Roughly 1/2 the sample was classified as sceptics and the others as being superstitious. Findings: Superstition relies more on intuitive/experiential thinking. 

d. Whitson and Galinsky (2008) got participants to recall a situation where they either did or didn't have control after being presented with scenarios involving superstitious beliefs, those who recalled 'no control' made a stronger link between those beliefs and the outcome of the scenarios.

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Evaluation of Superstition

  • Although superstitions are irrational and have no basis in fact, they can be seen as positive in that they can reduce anxiety and increase confidence and self-assurance, though critics have said they can also have a negative impact on health. 
  • Although superstitions can have an obsessive element (ritualised, repetitive), they are not seen as part of obsessive-compulsive disorder in DSM-IV
  • Cross-cultural superstitions tend to have a basis in fact, e.g. the belief that spilling salt is bad luck. Salt used to be a rare and valuable commodity, the intake of which was necessary for continued existence, the wasting of which could have negative consequences. This implies some superstitions have educational value to them, instilled through fear. 
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a. Watt (1990). We as humans are not good at judging probability, and some explanations of faulty thinking stemming from this may be:

  • Those "remarkable" coincidences that have a rational cause hidden from us
  • When "close" coincidences are counted as exact ones
  • The law of truly large numbers: 1. Given a large enough sample, that which is seemingly remarkable will happen just by chance. 2. On the other hand, remember how few people it takes (23) for a better than 50/50 chance of 2 of them having the same birth date (not year)

b. Marks and Kamman (1980) Memory is fallible. We usually recall that which is "significant" (like the apparent meaning in coincidences) and not the insignificant

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Evaluation of Coincidence

  • Chopra (2003) believed that the ancient Vedic philosophy that all events can be related to unseen prior causes or associations, no matter how vast or trivial, and that there is therefore no such thing as coincidences, is becoming accepted by scientists. 
  • Slovic (1982) believed that when unlikely events happened, like a bizarre accident, they serve to remind us of our own mortality. 
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