Underlying factors of anomalous experiences and beliefs

The cognitive, personality and biological factors to why anomalous experiences occur.

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Cognitive factors (AO1)

Believers (AKA sheep) may have lower intelligence than non-believers (AKA goats) and believers are less able to accurately judge events, that seem 'paranormal' and they therefore preform worse on syllogistic reasoning tasks.

Morris (1986) suggested that paranormal experiences were the result of the inexplicable association between their thoughts and events in real life. For example thinking of a person, then the phone rings, this may just be a coincidence, but it can be claimed to be telepathy.

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Cognitive factors (AO2)

Blackmore and More (1994) used random dotted patterns and found that believers found more images in the random patterns, suggesting there is a link between creativity and belief in the paranormal.

Winkleman (2001), a parapsychologist from America, looked into a remote Mexican village, concluded that the level of formal education and cognitive ability influences the belief in the paranormal.

However, Some studies have found the exact opposite. A survey of 1500 'New Science' readers (mainly scientists and engineers, intelligent people) and found that 67% of them regarded ESP as a established fact or likely possibility. Wiseman and Watt concluded that apart from the belief in psychic abilities, there is no difference between the cognitive ability between believers and non-believers.

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Personality factors (AO1)

Extraver personality - The need to gain external gratification (satisfaction) and stimulation. These people are usually talkative, enthusiastic, assertive and enjoy human interaction - large social gatherings. They prefer to be with other people rather than be alone as they feel bored while alone. They seek new and exciting experiences, this can explain why they are more prone to 'paranormal experiences'.

Fantasy prone personality (FP) - have many traits, such as a imaginary playmate as a child, adapting a fantasy identity, etc. The imagination can be confused with reality, leading the the belief in the paranormal, mixing imagination with memories and paranormal experiences can also be a defense mechanism, to replace troubles in real life.

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Personality factors (AO1)

Gow et al (2001) looked at a group of people who claimed to see a UFO or to experience an alien abduction and they were compared to a control group.  The participants filled out questionnaires to measure the childhood memories, imaginary friends, UFO experiences and paranormal beliefs. The group with UFO experiences were more FP and had stronger paranormal beliefs. But it cannot be proven if the FP causes the experiences of the experiences cause the FP.

Parra and Villaneuva (2003) looked at the effect of extroversion in ESP Ganzfeld tasks. 30 participants were used, all completed a Eysenck Personality Inventory (EPI) and a pre-ganzfeld questionnaire. The latter questionnaire measures relaxation, mood, motivation and expectation of success. The EPI measures ex traverse. It was predicted that extravert's would manifest psi then introverts because of the increased response to new stimuli. Villianeuva was always the sender. Extravert's scored significantly better at ESP than introverts. This shows that ESP-ganzfeld studies can be contaminated by the extrovert personality. But Parapsychologists argue only certain types of people are receptive to ESP.

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Biological factors (AO1)

Sleep paralysis - People who have experienced sleep paralysis have argued that it is evidence for creatures from other worlds. Sleep paralysis is when someone is about to fall asleep or wake up, they seem to be paralyzed and unable to cry out/speak. They feel the presence of something evil and/or threatening, usually followed by intense dread and terror. A presence is usually present, which may slowly strangle, attack or crush the chest. Auditory, visual, tactile hallucinations and Out of body experience are (OBE) also reported. It is believed that sleep paralysis is the combination of REM sleep (where the muscles are paralyzed) and consciousness, so dream imagery and normal sensory input are mixed together.

Temporal lobe stimulation - The temporal lobes are just above the ears and control hearing, identifying object, languages, storing memory and sensory input. Persinger (1983) put the temporal lobe hypothesis, arguing stimulation to this area of the brain can cause all the paranormal experiences.

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Biological factors (AO2)

Persinger's theory of paranormal experiences being the result to overactive temperal lobes was tested by Blackmore (1994), she had her temporal lobes stimulated in a dimly lit room, with half ping pong balls over her eyes and felt as if she was getting pulled away by her feet within 10 minuets.

Blackmore and Cox (2000) tested the temporal lobe hypothesis on 12 apparent alien abduction victims, they were compared to 12 who hadn't experienced claimed to have been abducted by aliens.  They all filled in a Personal Philosophy Inventory to measure Temporal Lability. The alien abductees generally scored less on the temporal lobe lability. The alien abductees scored higher on the sleep paralysis symptoms however (waking paralyzed, pressure on the chest and sensed presence). This shows that alien abduction claims are more likely to be sleep paralysis episodes.

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