The Study Of Paranormal Phenomena Psychology Essay

23 Mar 2015

This essay has been written and submitted by students and is not an example of our work. Please click this link to view samples of our professional work witten by our professional essay writers. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of EssayCompany.

The study of paranormal phenomena or paranormal belief is a component of parapsychology. According to Kennedy (2005), paranormal belief is still a poorly understood aspect in humanity. Some people believe in it but some are strongly opposed to the idea of paranormal phenomena; both parties are standing firmly in their own viewpoint to an extreme. According to Cline (n.d.), parapsychology is a field that engages the study of psychological phenomena which are unexplainable by means of science or can say that it has against the principles and theories of science. The term "parapsychology" was invented in year 1889 by a psychologist, Max Dessoir. Paranormal phenomena can be divided into three types which are clairvoyance or precognition, telepathy, and telekinesis. Telepathy is the capacity to sense and exchange information across the spaces through mind power. Telekinesis is the using of mind power to move objects. Clairvoyance or precognition is the capability to predict future events. Yet Tobacyk (2004) has divided the belief in paranormal phenomena into seven dimensions namely traditional religious belief, psi, witchcraft, superstition, spiritualism, extraordinary life forms, and precognition.

Paranormal beliefs have been found in many cultures for more than a thousand years (Jahoda, 1969 as cited in Wiseman & Watt, 2004) and the recent surveys showed that these paranormal beliefs are continuing to flourish nowadays (Newport & Strausberg, 2001 as cited in Wiseman & Watt, 2004). Paranormal phenomenon was experienced and believed by people of all cultures. This means that people from different cultures will have different belief systems toward paranormal phenomena. According to Irwin (2009), people will normally reckon all these paranormal phenomena as realities or truths instead of just a belief system that should be adopted by them in term of their own cultures. Besides, the paranormal belief within a society also consists of its cultural and chronological contexts. In the cultural context, a particular paranormal belief is largely endorsed by a culture setting but it is not necessary to have endorsed by people from other places who practiced different cultures. On the other hand, in the context of chronological setting, the paranormal belief that is mostly adopted in one time might be abandoned in another time within the same community. This may be due to that particular community has become skeptical and is being more emphasized on scientific evidences in viewing events or maybe the belief is just no longer adopted within that community.

Why are there so many people believing in the paranormal phenomena? According to Hood (2009), paranormal beliefs are not simply spreading by people and making others what to think. However, he claimed that human brain has a mind design that guides them naturally to form and understand the world schema and to make sense of it by constructing the intuitive theories. These intuitive theories produce a paranormal sense and feeling. He declares that all these can take place early in the development before culture emerges to lead people's thinking styles. The influences of culture may happen later during child's development stages. Children will construct information about the world through their own intuitive reasoning which directs them to both normal and paranormal beliefs. Nevertheless, there is something in the human mind that guides people to belief. The sense of paranormal experiences or beliefs is a part of our mind design and thus it is deeply implanted in the ways of how we explain all these paranormal phenomena.

On the other hand, according to Fritscher (2012), paranormal belief is a possible sign of disordered thinking in the field of psychology. There may have some lesions in the brain of the paranormal believers which cause them to have hallucinations. However, it is undeniable that the paranormal phenomenon has formed a crucial part of many belief systems and world views of the people which affected their interpretation of the world throughout their life.

Problem Statement

A lot of researches have been carried out in order to test the paranormal beliefs based on the demographic variables such as age, gender, socioeconomic status, races and culture. However, the hypothesis of social marginality had been used to predict the paranormal belief in these demographics (Irwin, 1993). Bainbridge (1978) and Wuthnow (1976) as cited in Irwin (1993) had declared that the socially marginal groups such as the people from low society status, jobless or having the low education level were prone to believe in paranormal phenomena. This may because they believe that these can lead them to a better life. On the other hand, a research which examines the social marginality hypothesis in paranormal belief has been conducted by Emmons and Sobal (1981). The finding of their research shows that females and unmarried people will normally associate with paranormal belief. The factors such as age, low education level and jobless usually do not have any correlations with paranormal belief. Therefore, it can be concluded that in terms of education level and employment, the social marginality hypothesis has a contradictory finding which failed to obtain the consistent results in all situations.

Many researches such as the study of Irwin (1985), Mc-Garry and Newberry (1981), Randall (1990), Randall and Desrosiers(1980), and Tobacyk and Milford (1983) as cited in Irwin (1993) have showed that there are more female than male paranormal believers. However, according to Gray (1990), there was an absence of gender differences for the students from science or non-science courses. The male students of non-science courses showed the same level of strong paranormal belief as female students. Besides, the female science students showed low level of paranormal belief as male students. Thus we cannot generalize that females have stronger paranormal belief than males.

Some researchers have claimed that the belief in traditional religions is same as the belief in paranormal phenomena, but this still remains questionable whether paranormal belief is related to religious belief (Irwin 1993). Some of the researches stated that religious belief was correlated with paranormal belief, for example, the research of Buhrmann and Zaugg (1983), Orenstein (2002), Thalbourne and Hensley (2001) as cited in Tam and Shiah (2004). On the other hand, the study of Ellis (1988) and Rice (2003) as cited in Tam and Shiah (2004) declared that religious belief is not related with paranormal belief. However, according to Rice (2003), in the relationship between religious belief and paranormal belief, there was a lack of confirmation whether their correlation is significant or not. This is because the relationship between them is much more multifaceted and diverse among the theories proposed.

Besides the researches stated above, there are also many other researches about paranormal beliefs. There are some psychological inquiries which are very important and needed to be investigated and known by everyone. Why do people believe in paranormal phenomena? Which group of people will tend to believe in these phenomena? In this modern era, most people tend to be more logically and scientifically in forming their ways of thinking which are evidence-based yet it still has many people who believe in these paranormal phenomena. Therefore, it is necessary for us to know what kind of people and what are the reasons that lead them to believe in paranormal phenomena. On top of that, the identification of the effects or consequences of paranormal belief that may have for human life are very important because it may have a great impact on the development of human civilization.

Significant of Study

The research and career that related with parapsychology or transpersonal psychology are not popular in Malaysia. There is no research done on this topic by Malaysian as their dissertations or theses temporarily. Therefore, there is a need to carry out a research on this topic in Malaysia.

People from different parts of the world will have their own unique type of paranormal beliefs regardless of their cultures. These paranormal beliefs will have some influences in different aspects of human life. For example, it can influence the critical thinking or cognitive ability, socioeconomic status and creativity of an individual. Thus, it is necessary to carry out a project at Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) based on the students in Perak campus in order to examine their paranormal belief level and to identify the effects of strong paranormal belief in their life.

It is important to know whether Asian females are stronger in paranormal belief compared with males, since almost all the western researches showed the consistent results that females will have a stronger paranormal belief compared to males. Moreover, it is interesting to know if religion(s) will make their followers to have strong belief in paranormal phenomena and how they achieved that. Lastly, it is interesting to know whether students from Arts and Science stream will have different paranormal belief level in Asian countries like Malaysia as most of the Western researches showed that Science stream students tend to have less paranormal belief compared to Arts stream students. All these researches carried out to examine gender differences, different religions and Arts and Science streams in level of paranormal belief are aimed to investigate whether the findings have cross-cultural consistency.


To determine whether females are stronger in paranormal belief compared to males as shown in most of the researches carried out by psychologists from western countries.

To identify whether Science stream students will have less paranormal belief compared to Arts stream students as they have more scientific knowledge and more scientifically ways of thinking.

To find out whether the different religious beliefs will influence the belief of paranormal phenomena.

Research Question

Is there any difference in paranormal belief between males and females?

Is there any difference in paranormal belief between Arts and Science stream students?

Is there any difference in paranormal belief among different religious beliefs?


Females will have stronger paranormal belief than males.

Students from Arts stream will have stronger paranormal belief than Science stream students.

There is a difference in paranormal belief among different kinds of religious beliefs.

Operational Definition

Sex According to American Psychological Association (APA) (2011), the term of sex is referred to the biological category of an individual, which is being classified as male and female. The term of gender was not suitable to use in this study as gender is referred to the behavior or attitude given by culture or society that is linked with the individual's biological sex according to APA (2011).

Religion It still remains undefined under the international law (Gunn, 2003). However, according to Yinger (1970), religion is a system of beliefs and practices in which a group of people are struggling with the ultimate questions of life. There are many different religions in Malaysia, such as Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism and Sikhism. However, this study is mainly focused on Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism and Christianity as most of the UTAR's students are Chinese and Indian. Nevertheless, other religions like Islam and Sikhism are very rare.

Arts stream The faculties of Arts stream in UTAR Perak campus are Faculty of Business and Finance (FBF), Faculty of Arts and Social Science (FAS), Faculty of Information and Communication Technology (FICT). The courses offered by FBF are Banking and Finance, Business Administration, Communication and Network, Accounting, Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Financial Economics, and Finance. In FAS, it consists of the courses such as Languages and Linguistics, Psychology and Counseling, Journalism, Public Relation and Advertising. For FICT, the courses offered are Computer Science, Business Information Systems, Information Systems Engineering and Computer Engineering.

Science stream The Science stream departments in UTAR Perak campus are Faculty of Science (FSc) and Faculty of Engineering and Green Technology (FEGT). The courses of FSc included Logistics and International Shipping, Agricultural Science, Biological Science, Biomedical Science, Biotechnology, Chemistry, Biochemistry, Statistical Computing and Operations Research and Microbiology. While FEGT offered the courses of Electronic Engineering, Environmental Engineering, Petrochemical Engineering, Construction Management and Industrial Engineering.



Numerous journals, dissertations and theses about paranormal beliefs have been published by Western researchers. Almost all findings are consistent with the hypotheses stated. Below is the review of some journals, dissertations and theses about the concept and history of paranormal beliefs, its theoretical framework and paranormal beliefs based on the demographic variables of sex differences, religions and different areas of study (arts and science stream).

Paranormal Beliefs

Besides the term of paranormal, there are also other words which have the same meaning such as superstitious, magical and supernatural. According to Lindeman and Svedholm (2012), psychologists have raised the awareness and interest in the issues of paranormal, superstitious, magical and supernatural (PSMS) since the year of 1800. The term PSMS belief is defined as category mistakes which confuse the basic knowledge of material objects, mental phenomena, living organisms, and the development as a whole. This term has been applied inconsistently in many research literatures. PSMS came out with the conceptual definitions which are classified into domain-general and domain-specific since last two decades. The definition of domain-general consists of five sets, namely belief in scientifically impossible phenomena, false beliefs, and associative biases (irrational acts, co variation bias and laws of sympathetic magic). Nevertheless, this definition failed to differentiate other unfounded beliefs from PSMS beliefs as they covered a wide range of beliefs. The domain-specific definition can be further divided into two groups which are intuitive and counterintuitive beliefs about the phenomena of biological, physical and psychological. This definition is more appropriate to classify the PSMS beliefs because it can explain some of the types and dissimilarities among them. Overall, there is no significant difference among the operation of PSMS beliefs. (pp. 1-11)

Richman and Bell (2012) found that the levels of paranormal belief dropped over the years. This can be seen from two experiments by Richman and Bell (2012) with the university student latest sample (2010) as well as Tobacyk and Milford (1983), which were both carried out in Southeastern US state university. Even though there were similar levels of belief in a variety of phenomena for two samples, there were still some aspects of the paranormal beliefs which decreased dramatically over the period of 27 years. The paranormal belief subscales of precognition and traditional religious belief showed less significant differences for the two samples. Precognition will be endured due to the reality that more people had experienced the predictive dream compared to other paranormal phenomena. In this case, the study of Royalty (1995) showed a significant relationship between the paranormal belief levels and the self-reported history of paranormal experience (as cited in Richman & Bell, 2012). For the subscales of traditional religious belief in paranormal belief, it has been a human continuous lifestyle regardless of cultures and age groups. Furthermore, there were some researches, including Richman and Bell (2012), proposed that traditional religious beliefs have little or no relation with paranormal beliefs, for example, Randall and Desrosiers (1980) and Rice (2003) as cited in Richman and Bell (2012). There are various personalities and factors which cause people to belief in paranormal phenomena, for instance, high fantasy proneness, sensation seeking and high openness, external locus of control and neuroticism may also contribute to paranormal beliefs. (pp. 197-206)

Moreover, Oh, Kim and Oh (2011) had done a cross-cultural study and revealed that Korean students have higher paranormal beliefs compared with United States (US) students in general. Nevertheless, the paranormal beliefs, in both religious and non-religious people, have decreased in Korea and US throughout the ten year period whereby it can be seen from the two testing periods which are 1999 and 2009. A dramatically decrease can be seen in Korea. Korean students have higher paranormal beliefs in all subscales besides traditional religious belief compared with US students at the year of 1999. In 2009, Korean students still have stronger paranormal beliefs than US students apart from spiritualism and religiosity although there is more decrease in Korean students compared to US students. Therefore, the differences in paranormal beliefs between Korean and US students were not significant in 2009. This result obtained is most likely due to the advance in scientific knowledge which may affect their thinking. The findings showed that people who possess and understand scientific knowledge will have lower paranormal beliefs and this idea is consistent with the study of Lim (1983) as cited in Oh, Kim and Oh (2011). (pp. 35-51)

Sex and Paranormal Beliefs

There are many researches that have been done to examine the relationship between sex and paranormal beliefs. Many researches reported that females have higher level of paranormal beliefs than males. The review of Irwin (1993) pointed out some of the studies which proved that females will have higher global paranormal beliefs than males, such as Randall and Desrosiers (1980), McGarry and Newberry (1981), Tobacyk and Milford (1983), Irwin (1985), and Randall (1990). There are lots of studies stated in the review of Irwin (1993) illustrated that females will normally has higher belief in ESP than males in terms of precognition and telepathy, for example, Kennedy (1939), Emmons and Sobal (1981), Thalbourne (1981), Haraldsson (1981, 1985a), Tobacyk and Milford (1983), Irwin (1985), Gray (1990b), and Clarke (1991). According to Irwin (1993), females also portray higher paranormal belief in the subscales of psychic healing (Gray, 1990b), superstitions (Emme, 1940; Scheidt, 1973; Blum & Blum, 1974; Blum, 1976), traditional religious concept (Hay & Morisy, 1978; Emmons & Sobal, 1981; Tobacyk & Milford, 1983; Black, 1990), reincarnation (Gray, 1990b), astrology (Salter & Routledge, 1971; Za'rour, 1972; Wuthnow, 1976; Emmons & Sobal, 1981; Fichten & Sunerton, 1983; Grey, 1988; Gray, 1990b; Clarke, 1991), and hauntings (Haraldsson, 1985a). On the other hand, males have showed higher belief in extraordinary life forms like Loch Ness monster (Tobacyk & Milford, 1983; Tobacyk & Pirttila-Backman, 1992), and in UFOs (Gray, 1990b; Clarke, 1991). (pp. 8-9)

The research of Wolfradt (1997, pp. 15-19) revealed that females have higher level of paranormal belief compared to males because they scored higher on some subscales of the Revised Paranormal Belief Scale (RPBS) such as superstition, psi belief, spiritualism, witchcraft and precognition. Nevertheless, there were no sex differences at the RPBS subscales of belief in extraordinary life forms and religious belief. On the other hand, Eder, Turic, Milasowszky, Adzin and Hergovich (2010, p. 521) declared that females will generally portray higher paranormal beliefs in the subscales of spirituality and traditional religious belief, but it was less significant to the subscales of witchcraft and psi. Besides, males showed higher paranormal belief in subscale of extraordinary life forms. However, there was no sex difference in the subscales of precognition and superstition. On the contrary, the study of Blackmore and Moore (1994) stated that there were no significant gender differences in paranormal beliefs in term of Paranormal Belief Scale (PBS) score (p. 95).

Gray (1990) revealed that females are prone to adopt the paranormal beliefs like psychic, reincarnation, astrology and ESP, while males tend to believe in extraterrestrial life forms like aliens compared to females (p. 181). This is because males will take the initiative to think and learn while females put more emphasis on their feelings or sentiments (Abele, 2003, pp. 768-776). Thus, females are more likely to believe in verbal phenomena such as psychic readings and males tend to believe in physical paranormal phenomena or science phenomena like UFO or aliens (Hauser, 2008, p. 1). Simultaneously, Houran and Lange (2007) concluded this as the cognitive differences between males and females in which males are more headed to naturally related phenomena while females are prone to humanly related paranormal phenomena (as cited in Hauser, 2008, p. 1). Therefore, these researches indicate that there are sex differences in the type of paranormal beliefs, but not the quantity of paranormal beliefs.

Furthermore, the study of Preece and Baxter (2000) drew a conclusion that sex differences were basically being discovered at each year group with females are normally less skeptical than males in term of paranormal beliefs such as ESP and psychic ability. This is because according to Preece and Baxter (2000), females have been influenced by the popular media such as newspaper articles or magazines. On the other hand, males are usually less skeptical than females about the UFO belief. Males tend to belief that aliens from other planets had visited Earth in the past. This may due to the particular interests of males in space traveling and universe which are always being portrayed in the films or novels according to Preece and Baxter (2000). Nevertheless, the critical reasons for both males and females to adopt different types of paranormal beliefs might be the combination of biological aspects like genetic and cultural aspects like social norms whereby different roles were being instilled to them based on their gender. (pp. 1147-1156)

Kennedy (2003, pp. 27-39) claimed that males will always be extreme skepticism toward paranormal belief because they tend to put a significant assessment on manipulation and rational thinking. Therefore, they may frequently imagine that they are threatened by all these paranormal beliefs and thus showing aggressiveness toward different belief systems. National Canadian survey also obtained a consistent finding which claimed that males are prone to be the extreme skeptics of paranormal beliefs and think that spirituality was insignificant, while females will have the higher paranormal beliefs and think that spirituality was significant. According to Blackmore (1994b), most of the males were not concerned or attracted by the paranormal phenomena in terms of examining the atypical declaration or trying out the psychic experiences by themselves, they just uphold their own belief systems (as cited in Kennedy, 2003). The fact contributed to these phenomena which has been stated by Kennedy (2003) is that males possess the genetic predispositions for analytical thinking and social authority. On the other hand, the findings of Lindeman and Aarnio (2006, pp. 597-599) stated that females possess higher intuitive and lower logical thinking and thus it seems to be the generative mechanisms for females to have adopted more paranormal beliefs compared with males.

Art and Science Stream text in Paranormal Beliefs

The research of Gray and Mill (1990, pp. 162-172) showed that English graduate students tend to adopt more paranormal beliefs such as ESP, UFO, astrology, psychic healing and reincarnation compared to Biology graduate students who have stronger belief in non-paranormal phenomena like evolution. The Biology graduate students needed fewer signs compared to English graduate students for the analysis of the information in the text they read. Even though less signs are needed by Biology graduate students on the scientific contents, their performances were not significant different with English graduate students. However, there was a significant positive relationship between the number of signs required and paranormal belief in which the more signs required in order for completing a scientific context, the stronger the belief in paranormal phenomena. This is because they do not approach the scientific evidences with a proper critical standpoint. Therefore, this study pointed out that there were more English graduate students who have the higher paranormal beliefs compared to Biology students. Besides, the study of Craig (1991) demonstrated that the students from music-art and English-foreign language majors have stronger paranormal beliefs than the students from social studies and mathematics-science majors (p. 64).

Morier and Keeports (1994, pp. 443-453) stated that students from science and pseudoscience class (treatment group) were generally having lower level of paranormal belief compared with the students in psychology and law class (control group). Initially, both groups did not show any differences before the course started. However, the participants from treatment group revealed a significant decrease in paranormal belief than control group in which the standard score units for control group only dropped with an average of 0.17 while treatment group was dropped with an average of 1.08. The ultimate cause that science and pseudoscience course has successfully changed the level of paranormal beliefs may be due to the dealing with such beliefs obviously and clearly during the class. In addition, Jones (1980) also proposed that paranormal beliefs can only be eliminated through the direct confrontation with the paranormal phenomena (as cited in Morier & Keeports, 1994). This is because the science and pseudoscience course has provided students with more scientific knowledge which lead them to acknowledge science as a way to investigate and evaluate the paranormal events or misconceptions. Overall, the findings for this study discovered that skeptical behavior can be achieved by scientific teaching or critical thinking abilities. These results support the study of Grimmer and White (1992) whereby it claimed that science education may add to the better skeptical attitude as science students will normally have a lower level of paranormal beliefs compared to arts students (as cited in Preece & Baxter, 2000, p.1154).

We can see that when an individual has more scientific knowledge or is interested in science, then he or she will tend to have lower paranormal beliefs compared to others who know little or nothing about science. Prichard (2011) had done a research to investigate paranormal beliefs and science motivation among the biology and psychology students. The participants consist of the students from advanced biology, introductory psychology, and advanced psychology. The findings showed that introductory psychology students have more paranormal beliefs compared to the students from advanced biology and advanced psychology. Although science motivation is assumed to have an effect in reducing the paranormal beliefs, there was no significant difference between advanced biology and advanced psychology students in paranormal beliefs, albeit Biology students have higher level of science motivation compared to both introductory and advanced psychology students. Thus, Prichard (2011) had found that study through psychology course may become the greater predictor for reducing the paranormal beliefs compared to science motivation. Therefore, it cannot be concluded that science motivation will lead to a more rational thinking about paranormal beliefs as it is not the only factor for skepticism. (pp. 2-20)

Religious Belief and Paranormal Beliefs

There are a lot of researches that have been carried out to investigate the relationship between paranormal beliefs and religiosity. In the review of Irwin (1993), Irwin (1985) reported that global paranormal beliefs such as psychic healing, precognition, telepathy, psychokinesis (PK), and astral projection have a positive relationship with religiosity; however there is no relation between the global paranormal beliefs and religiosity reported by Alcock (1975). Besides, Tobacyk and Milford (1983) declared that there is a positive correlation between belief in precognition and religiosity (as cited in Irwin, 1993). Both researches of Haraldsson (1981) and Thalbourne (1984) claimed that belief in ESP was associated with religiosity in which ESP belief is positive correlated with praying, reading the religious materials and attending religious gathering (as cited in Irwin, 1993); but according to Irwin (1993), this was not proved by Irwin (1985) and Clarke (1991). Nevertheless, Jones et al. (1977) claimed that church involvement do not have significant relationship with global paranormal belief and belief in various paranormal phenomena (Alcock, 1975; Sheils & Berg, 1977), but Wuthnow (1976) reported that there is a negative correlation between church involvement and astrology belief (as cited in Irwin, 1993). On the other hand, according to Irwin (1993), religious affiliation has been declared that there is no significant relationship with either ESP belief (Murphy & Lester, 1976) or global paranormal belief (Jones et al., 1977). Although Sheils and Berg (1977) reported a correlation between religious and paranormal beliefs, Thalbourne's (1981) had reexamined the data and pointed out that the result was not significantly different (as cited in Irwin, 1993). Tobacyk and Milford (1983) had examined the religiosity in which it has a positive relationship with witchcraft belief, a negative relation with spiritualism, and do not have significant relationship with superstitions and extraordinary life forms belief (as cited in Irwin, 1993). The study of Clarke (1991) revealed that religiosity have a positive relationship with psychic healing belief and negative relation with belief in UFO or aliens (as cited in Irwin, 1993). (pp. 13-14)

The research of Shiah, Tam, Wu and Chang (2010, pp. 367-382) had been conducted in Chinese population to find out the relationship between paranormal beliefs and religiosity. They reported that the believers of traditional Chinese religious will generally have stronger paranormal belief compared to Christian believers and atheists. Therefore, the greater participation of traditional Chinese religious believers in the activities which focus on paranormal experiences might contribute to greater paranormal belief, especially when it was compared to Christianity. The findings are consistent with the connotation that Christianity might have less paranormal belief compare with other religions.

According to Hergovich, Schott and Arendasy (2005, pp. 293-303), the findings showed that there was a low but significant relationship between paranormal belief and religiosity. People who are self-reported religiosity and intrinsic religiosity have stronger relation with paranormal belief compared to people who held extrinsic religiosity. Yet, the relation of Catholics and Protestants to paranormal belief is little or even portrayed a negative relationship between intrinsic religiosity and paranormal belief. Besides, there was a stronger paranormal belief with the participants who do not have the religious attachment. However, all these findings proposed that paranormal belief can be a substitute for the traditional religious belief. The main idea of this research is that there was a slightly positive relationship between paranormal belief and religiosity.

Aarnio and Lindeman (2007) had conducted a research showing that the different results have been found for the correlations of religious and paranormal beliefs in four believer groups which are skeptics, paranormal believers, religious and double believers (highly religious and paranormal beliefs). There was a positive correlation between religious and paranormal beliefs in the view of skeptics and paranormal believers, but has a negative relationship for religious people. However, it still depends on individual's loyalty toward religion whereby people who have stronger religious beliefs may refuse paranormal beliefs as they follow the teaching of religion strictly. All the believers except skeptics were considered to have low analytical thinking but high intuitive thinking. Additionally, there was only a little difference that all believers were assumed to have some unstable emotions or can say that they were more anxious than skeptics. The ultimate difference between the believers and skeptics that can be determined was that the believers will have more positive attitude and more open-minded toward the paranormal phenomena than skeptics. The religious and paranormal believers can be differentiated by conservation values such as the security feeling, compliance and respect to custom which are possessed by religious people. Furthermore, religious people also have more self-transcendence values than paranormal believers. (pp. 1-9)

Orenstein (2002, pp. 301-311) had conducted a study to investigate the correlation between church attendance, conventional religious belief and paranormal belief. The findings stated that the religious belief has a positive relationship with paranormal belief, but more attendance to church service has a negative relationship with paranormal belief. Thus, according to Orenstein (2002), paranormal beliefs are usually being regarded as intense religious beliefs as this study illustrates that it is difficult to find a person who has a low level of religious belief but has strong paranormal belief. This research has come to a conclusion that several religious beliefs are an essential situation for paranormal beliefs. On the other hand, the research of religious and paranormal beliefs in US carried out by Rice (2003, pp. 95-106) claimed that there is very little or no significant relationship between religious and paranormal beliefs. This is because there were lots of different belief patterns held by the participants and thus making the relationship between religious and paranormal beliefs become more complicated.

In conclusion, the variables of sex and area of study (arts and science stream) have almost the consistent findings throughout most of the researches with females and arts stream students tend to have stronger paranormal beliefs. Besides, some of the researches stated that the Christianity have the least paranormal beliefs among other religions. However, the relationship between religiosity and paranormal beliefs still remains unclear as the study failed to obtain a reliable result. From the review above, we can see that paranormal beliefs had dropped over the years as our society becomes more modern and being occupied with scientific knowledge.

Theoretical Framework

Normally, paranormal beliefs will be developed since childhood due to the influences of culture belief systems. Figure 1.0 shows Irwin's (1992) old model. Figures 2.0 and 3.0 show the modified models of Irwin's (1992) old model by Lawrence, Edwards, Barraclough, Church and Hetherington's (1995) and Irwin (1993), respectively, which illustrate the factors of childhood contribution to paranormal belief in terms of the origin and functions of paranormal belief:-

Childhood Factors Model



Childhood Fantasy

Paranormal Belief

Paranormal Experience

Figure 1.0: A simplification of Irwin's (1992) model describing the childhood causes of paranormal belief. (p. 211)

Childhood factors model According to Irwin (1992), childhood fantasy is a fundamental mediating factor for paranormal beliefs to develop. Its formation may be due to the parental support or incidence of traumatic events in early childhood. The traumatic events experienced by children will establish a strong need in interpersonal control. Fantasy and need for control can be developed into paranormal beliefs. Childhood fantasy can also be a cause for paranormal experiences (as cited in Lawrence et al., 1995). According to Lawrence et al. (1995), it is ambiguous to the results of fantasy on paranormal belief and paranormal experience. This is because they should demonstrate a mutual causation with one another. (pp. 209-215)

Paranormal Belief

Paranormal Experience

Childhood Fantasy

Childhood TraumaLawrence et al. (1995)

Figure 2.0: A new model by Lawrence et al. (1995) for the childhood causes of paranormal belief and experience. (p. 214)

Covariance structure modeling (CSM) According to Lawrence et al. (1995, pp. 209-215), this model is excluding the direct causal relationship from childhood fantasy to paranormal belief. However, it proposed the insertion of direct causal relationship between childhood trauma and paranormal experience. This modified model contains two causal paths in its influence on paranormal experience which are direct and indirect. The indirect part is started from childhood trauma, which is then led to childhood fantasy, paranormal experience and paranormal belief, in order. On the other hand, the direct aspect is to connect childhood trauma to paranormal experience directly. Paranormal belief is a consequence rather than cause of paranormal experience. Paranormal experience is affected more by fantasy and paranormal belief is affected more by paranormal experience.

Traumatic Childhood Experiences

Encouragement of Fantasy in Childhood

Need for a Sense of Control

Fantasy Proneness

Social Context

Parapsychological Experiences

Paranormal Beliefs

Illusion of Control

Coping with Uncontrollable Life Events

Figure 3.0: A model of origins and functions of paranormal belief by Irwin (1993). (p. 29)

Fantasy proneness is the main element for the model above. The formation of fantasy proneness is mostly caused by parents or other important people of a child in some events. Besides, it can be originated from some traumatic childhood experiences which cause the child to desire a sense of control. This can lead to the endorsement of paranormal belief as it provides an illusion of control over the uncontrollable life events. Fantasy proneness that causes paranormal belief is intervened by their cultural or social context which is normally reinforced by parents, teachers, peers and the media. Snow and Machalek (1982) claimed that there is a reciprocal interaction between parapsychological experiences and paranormal beliefs (as cited in Irwin, 1993). If a paranormal belief allows individuals to have the feeling of coping with uncontrollable life events, this will make them to have a sense of superiority and encourage their endorsement of paranormal belief eventually. (pp. 28-30)

Below are some theories about paranormal beliefs:-

Misattribution hypothesis This hypothesis still have other four terms by Wiseman and Watts, which are probability misjudgment, fantasy proneness, poor cognitive abilities and tendency to find connections in distantly related material (Banta, 2008, p. 8). According to Wiseman and Watts (2006), this theory presumes that the normal events have been misjudged and thus become paranormal phenomena (as cited in Banta, 2008, p. 8). Besides, Blackmore and Troscianko (1985) declared that paranormal believers are prone to mistakenly link coincidences to paranormal phenomena rather than consider them as possibilities (as cited in Musch & Ehrenberg, 2002, p.169). It means that people are tend to seek explanation for any coincidence occurred, if no explanation is accessible then they will tend to adopt the paranormal one (Blackmore & Moore, 1994, pp. 91-103).

Cultivation theory's resonance hypothesis According to Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, and Signorielli (1986) and Ogles (1987), media cultivation proposed that when people being exposed to the remarkable program or show to an extent, it can cultivate the beliefs of viewers associated with nature and repeatedly illustrate those events in the real world (as cited in Sparks, Nelson & Campbell, 1997). It means that the viewers are prone to make up their thinking about the real world from the images of media which are stuck inside their memory due to excessive exposure to the TV programs (Ogles & Hoffner, 1987 as cited in Sparks, Nelson & Campbell, 1997). Thus, according to Sparks, Nelson and Campbell (1997), if paranormal phenomena are being published and broadcasted frequently in the media as if they were true, the viewers will tend to make judgment about the real world from the information received rather than by their own critical thinking. The resonance in cultivation theory suggests that the influences of paranormal beliefs and television exposure will be greater on those who have real life experiences that are similar with the paranormal experiences portrayed in the television programs. This is because the viewers received a double amount of messages which are from their own paranormal experiences and the paranormal phenomena programs broadcasted in the television. In this case, it can lead to stronger paranormal beliefs in them among other viewers. (pp. 345-359)

Irwin had proposed the four hypotheses which are worldview hypothesis, psychodynamic functions hypothesis, cognitive deficits hypothesis and social marginality hypothesis in order to explain the endorsement of paranormal beliefs. Below are the explanations for these four hypotheses in general.

Worldview hypothesis According to Zusne and Jones (1982 & 1989), paranormal belief is considered as a part of wider world view illustrated by a highly subjective and ambiguous perspective on humanity, life, and the world at large (as cited in Irwin, 2009). Furthermore, Zusne and Jones (1982, p. 192) also explains paranormal belief as a result of general approach and a wide subjectivism that aimed at "creating meaning for the world" (as cited in Irwin, 2009). According to Irwin (2009), the primary connotation of this hypothesis is that paranormal belief should be established in combination with other beliefs and practices which share the subjective and mysterious orientation. Paranormal belief also needs to reveal the believer's attitude in terms of mysterious orientation under this hypothesis. If the beliefs are absence of noticeable consequences for attitude, paranormal belief cannot be considered as a component of wider and significant worldview. Thus, it has drawn an important awareness to the subjective view of some beliefs which are connected with paranormal beliefs. (pp. 67-76)

Psychodynamic functions hypothesis According to Irwin (2009), the paranormal beliefs are need-serving whereby the paranormal believers are thought to have psychological dysfunction. Nonetheless, it is not an essential inference of this hypothesis as the personality correlation of paranormal belief is being taken into consideration for this hypothesis. There are three groups of personality variables that relate with paranormal beliefs which are social dimensions of personality, psychological adjustment and psychopathology. In social dimensions of personality, paranormal believers will tend to have the characteristics of social isolation, lack of social interest, low social motivation and lack of fear for the social ridicule. Yet, aspect of psychological adjustment claimed that paranormal believers may correlate with the traits of narcissism, absence of death anxiety, depression and bipolar, neuroticism but also openness to experience and display rigidity once they created their own beliefs. Lastly, psychopathology part has declared that paranormal believers may have some dysfunctional predispositions as they might have the symptoms of complex temporal lobe, schizotypy or psychosis which can be termed as reality testing deficits. (pp. 91-106)

Cognitive deficits hypothesis This hypothesis have been prompted to link cognitive processes or factors with paranormal beliefs. According to Irwin (2009), paranormal believers have been regarded as lack of analytical thinking or illogical, irrational, ridiculous and uncritical. This hypothesis suggested that the paranormal believers are prone to have a lower level in terms of education achievement and scientific knowledge, intelligent or critical ability and reasoning skills. On the other hand, paranormal beliefs can also lead to a higher level of creativity and imagination. Thus, these two cognitive variables were being excluded in cognitive deficit for the paranormal beliefs and thus paranormal beliefs have been valued of being a crucial role in these cognitive areas. (pp. 77-90)

Social marginality hypothesis This hypothesis have been provoked and linked together with the demographic correlation of paranormal belief. According to Irwin (2004), the study of Wuthnow (1976), Bainbridge (1978) and Lett (1992) stated that socially marginal group such as the people who live in poverty, have low level of education and joblessness, which in turn has a low socioeconomic status (SES), will tend to have stronger paranormal beliefs. The withdrawal and isolation which connected with marginal status may encourage them to endorse religious and paranormal beliefs because these belief systems may compensate for their poor life. Irwin (2004) stated that in the perspective of sociologists, the demographic variables such as female, old age, low SES, minor ethnicity or race, and divorce may tend to have stronger paranormal beliefs. (pp. 229-231)

Cognitive Deficits


-Lack of scientific knowledge

-Lower critical ability

-Lack of reasoning skills

-Lower education

Social Marginality



-Low SES

-Minor ethnicity or race

-Old age


Paranormal Beliefs

Figure 4.0: The combination of the cognitive deficits hypothesis and social marginality hypothesis which were being used in this current study.

Only one component of each hypothesis was being used in this study which is "lack of scientific knowledge" in cognitive deficits hypothesis and "female" in social marginality hypothesis. The students from arts stream were considered as lack of scientific knowledge which is a component of cognitive deficits hypothesis, while female (sex differences) was assumed to have higher paranormal belief according to the social marginality hypothesis.



This study is a quantitative research. According to Hesketh and Laidlaw (n.d.), quantitative research is focused on gathering and analyzing numerical data. It implements scientific method by emphasizing on measurement and evidence which in turn provide new clarifications. Normally, it will identify the amount of sample from the population and present information on the variable. Therefore, one of the ways for conducting quantitative research is by using survey method and it actually has been used for this project. Participants were the students from Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR), Perak campus. The Revised Paranormal Belief Scale (RPBS) was used in this project in order to investigate the level of paranormal belief among UTAR students.

Research Design

Survey Survey research that aims to evaluate the variables will normally depend on the use of questionnaire (Shaughnessy, Zechmeister & Zechmeister, 2010). Therefore, the questionnaire is chosen to be the method of survey used in this research project in order to collect data which will then be used to answer the research questions stated. According to Shaughnessy, Zechmeister and Zechmeister (2010), survey research is about choosing the participants from population as well as using a predetermined set of questions. It is being employed to evaluate participants' opinions, feelings and thoughts. In this case, UTAR students from different faculties were selected to answer a set of questions in order to investigate their paranormal belief level.

In order to ensure that the result will not be influenced by chance factor, probability sampling had been used with stratified random sampling by controlling the size of strata. According to Shaughnessy, Zechmeister and Zechmeister (2010), probability sampling is a technique of acquiring the representative sample. It provides the students with equal chances to be selected for the survey research. The stratified random sampling is about division of population into subpopulations or strata, and the samples are being randomly chosen from the strata. There were five strata for arts and science streams in this study in which stratum 1 is Faculty of Business and Finance (FBF), stratum 2 is Faculty of Arts and Social Science (FAS), stratum 3 is Faculty of Information and Communication Technology (FICT), stratum 4 is Faculty of Science (FSc) and stratum 5 is Faculty of Engineering and Green Technology (FEGT). They were being manipulated with a fix sample size in term of their sex differences and areas of study (arts and science stream/ faculty) but not religious differences. Religious differences were not being manipulated because it is difficult to confirm the religion with participants since this can be a sensitive issue to some of the students. Furthermore, since most students are Chinese, they are mainly Buddhists.

This survey research was carried out by employing the assessment of self-report. It is more convenient and easy to use this assessment as it saves time and energy. It also has a low cost. Besides, the self-reflection can be easily obtained from participants based on their belief system.


The participants are students from Perak campus of Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR). Participants consist of arts and science stream students and they are from different faculties. This can increase the diversity for the comparison of their paranormal belief level. UTAR sample had been chosen in order to carry out this research because it is a convenient sample whereby UTAR participants can be reached out easily.

There were a total of 120 students who took part in this study. The questionnaires had been distributed to 60 male students and 60 female students. The questionnaires were being distributed to 60 students from Arts courses and 60 students from Science courses. More specifically, they were being distributed to 20 students from each of the FAS, FBF and FICT which has a total of 60 arts stream students. There were equal numbers of participants from both sexes, which were 10 males and 10 females from each of the FAS, FBF and FICT. For the 60 participants from science stream, the questionnaires had been distributed to 30 students from each of the FSc and FEGT. There were 15 males and 15 females from each of the FSc and FEGT. Besides, there were 39 Buddhists, 32 Hinduists, 27 Christians and 19 Taoists.

Instrument and Rating

Revised Paranormal Belief Scale (RPBS) Revised Paranormal Belief Scale (RPBS) is the only questionnaire available for this study whereby it consists of 26 items in seven subscales. The seven subscales are precognition, witchcraft, superstition, spiritualism, psi, traditional religious belief and extraordinary life forms. The subscale of traditional religious belief contains items 1, 8, 15 and 22. Psi consists of items 2, 9, 16 and 23. Witchcraft includes items 3, 10, 17 and 24. Superstition consists of items 4, 11 and 18. Spiritualism comprises of items 5, 12, 19 and 25. Extraordinary life forms involve items 6, 13 and 20. Lastly, precognition contains items 7, 14, 21 and 26. To clarify, item 23 uses a reverse scored system.

This questionnaire was modified by Tobacyk from the 25 items Paranormal Belief Scale (PBS) created by Tobacyk and Milford in 1983. According to Tobacyk (2004), this modified version, RPBS includes the adjustment of items for three of the seven subscales which are witchcraft, precognition and extraordinary life forms. It is, more particularly, for the creation of a new precognition subscale, substitution of two of four items in witchcraft subscale, and change of one of the three extraordinary life forms subscale items. Overall, there are six items in PBS being substituted by the seven new items. The remaining 18 items from PBS had been retained in RPBS.

RPBS consists of seven point rating scale which was being modified from the five point PBS in which 1 represents strongly disagree and 7 represents strongly agree. The scores of RPBS are ranging from 26 to 182 as 26 is the lowest score in paranormal belief and 182 is the highest score of paranormal belief. Thus, the higher total score correspond to higher endorsement of paranormal beliefs. This seven point rating scale allows the participants to describe their beliefs in a more accurate way and can minimize the restriction of range.

According to Tobacyk (2004), RPBS is an acceptable and suitable scale for the assessment of paranormal beliefs. It has high reliability and validity; its full rate scale is 0.92. Since RPBS has high cross-cultural validity, Tobacyk recommended researchers to use the RPBS in their studies of paranormal beliefs.

Research Procedure

A set of questionnaire, Revised Paranormal Belief Scale (RPBS) and research proposal has been approved by research supervisor, Ms. Low Sew Kim. The survey forms were distributed on January, 2013 at UTAR Perak campus. Some students from different faculties such as FBF, FICT, FSc and FAS had assisted in distributing the questionnaires to their own faculty's students. However, there were just 10 sets of questionnaires for FAS participants and the FAS students had helped in distributing them.

On the other hand, the questionnaires for the participants from FEGT had been distributed on Tuesday, 15th January, 2013 at UTAR Block E. The participants had been asked one-by-one whether they were free and willing to complete the questionnaire. The process of distributing and completing the questionnaires for 30 FEGT students took around two hours. Nevertheless, another 10 sets of questionnaires had been distributed to FAS students just before the start of next lecture class. Two days were spent on the distribution and collection of these 10 sets of questionnaires.

Lastly, all the questionnaires have been successfully collected from 120 participants with 100% response rate. These procedures ended on Monday, 4th February, 2013.

Data Analysis

Descriptive statistics will be used to assess the demographic variables such as sex, stream (faculty), and religion, as well as the item scores, subscale scores and total scores. Besides, inferential statistics will be used in analyzing the data for research questions. T-test between independent sample means will be applied to both research questions which are the sex variable and the Arts or Science stream students. Lastly, One-way analysis of variance (ONEWAY ANOVA) will be used to analyze the data of religious differences. All the statistical data will be calculated by using the program of Statistical Package for Social Science (SPSS) version 20.



Statistical results of research questions based on the paranormal belief among UTAR undergraduates will be discussed and examined in this chapter in terms of their demographic variables (sex, stream, and religion). Besides, limitations in this study such as sample size and questionnaire issues will be outlined. Lastly, some recommendations for future study will also be mentioned.

Sex and Paranormal Beliefs

The result of this study revealed that there was no significant difference between sex and paranormal belief, t (118) =1.27, p>0.05. It yielded a consistent finding with some previous researches, such as Blackmore and Moore (1994), Genovese (2005), and Hauser (2008). The finding of this study shows that more females have high paranormal belief compared to males, which is consistent with other researches.

The study of Gray (1990) claimed that being males does not simply mean they adopted less paranormal belief than females. Therefore, Gray (1990) declared that there was no sex difference in paranormal belief for the undergraduate students, regardless the field of study of the students. The non-science students have high level of paranormal belief while science students have low level of paranormal belief, regardless of their gender. Thus, this study obtained the same result as Gray (1990) which stated that there was no significant difference between males and females in paranormal belief as a whole.

Besides, both the researches of Gray (1990) and Hauser (2008) declared that there is no sex difference in the quantity of paranormal belief; instead they endorsed different kinds of paranormal belief. As mentioned in Chapter 2, males lean towards concrete paranormal belief such as extraterrestrial life while females are prone to believe in verbal paranormal belief such as psychic reading and astrology. Therefore, these two researches have concluded that generally there was no significant sex difference in paranormal belief.

Given that the participants who are involved in this study are university students, it is no surprise if there is no sex difference in the paranormal belief. Since both males and females possess similar education background, their thinking styles will not have much difference. This implication is supported by Goode (2002) whereby education has played an important role in term of paranormal belief. Goode (2002) proposed that both Miller (1987) and Sagan (1995) argued that there are strong negative relationship between education and paranormal belief. In other words, the higher the education an individual achieved, the less paranormal belief an individual endorsed. Additionally, the connotation above had been supported by Aarnio and Lindeman (2005) whereby they stated that university students have less paranormal belief compared with the students from vocational school as the university students are able to think more critically on the issues of paranormal phenomena compared with others.

Lastly, one of the factors that caused no sex differences in paranormal belief in this study is because some of the males and females have same background of cultures and traditions. For example, the siblings that live together will have same family background which shares the same culture and belief system. Furthermore, siblings can influence each other in term of their belief system and paranormal belief. Therefore, their paranormal belief level can be almost similar in these circumstances since most of the paranormal beliefs were formed during childhood. According to the childhood factors as described by the models such as the old model of Irwin (1992) (Figure 1.0, p. 21), the modified models of Lawrence et al. (1995) (Figure 2.0, p. 22) and Irwin (1993) (Figure 3.0, p. 23) from Irwin (1992), the paranormal belief can be caused by the childhood factors.

Art and Science Stream text in Paranormal Beliefs

The result of this study portrayed that there was no significant difference between Arts and Science stream in paranormal belief, t (118) =0.79, p>0.05. It has a partial similar result with Prichard (2011) which proposed that there were no significant differences between the students from advanced psychology and biology in paranormal belief despite advanced biology students have higher science motivation as compared to advanced psychology students. Therefore, the finding of Prichard (2011) can be concluded as there was no significant difference between Arts (advanced psychology) and Science stream (advanced biology) in paranormal belief.

Many results from other researches, for example Gray and Mill (1990), Gray (1990), Morier and Keeports (1994) and Díaz-Vilela and Álvarez-González (2004), also declared that arts stream students will have higher paranormal belief than science stream students which is not consistent with the finding of this study. However, in term of mean scores, the arts stream students still have higher paranormal belief compared to science stream students in this study although it is not significantly different.

Among the five faculties, the Faculty of Engineering and Green Technology (FEGT) had scored second higher in paranormal belief with scores higher than the other two faculties [Faculty of Arts and Social Science (FAS) & Faculty of Information and Communication Technology (FICT)] in Arts stream (refer to Figure 7.0, p. 38). In this scenario (Figure 7.0), it has made the finding of this study no significant difference in paranormal belief between Arts and Science stream even though Faculty of Science (FSc) had scored the lowest in paranormal belief. It can be concluded that some of the science stream students have same or even higher scores than arts stream students in paranormal belief. This inference can be explained by Eve and Harrold (1986) which proposed that some of the paranormal beliefs were being hold deeply in their perspectives and were highly opposed to changes even though there are many accessible scientific knowledge. Thus, this can be one of the factors that explained the result of this current study. Besides, there was a survey (Bridgstock, 2003) which showed that science stream students may accept an equal amount of endorsement in paranormal beliefs and scientific facts. This may due to the assumption that their endorsement in both paranormal beliefs and scientific facts can be as good as another (Gross & Levitt, 1994 as cited in Bridgstock, 2003).

Finally, given the fact that all Malaysia students have attained the science education since primary school, it should be no difference in the level of paranormal belief regardless of the courses they study in university. Since arts stream students had studied science subjects before and posses at least the basic knowledge of science, it is not out of expectation that they have no difference in the level of paranormal belief when compared with science stream students.

Religious Belief and Paranormal Beliefs

The finding of this study showed that there was a significant difference among religious groups (Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Taoism) in paranormal belief, F (3, 116) =7.25, p<0.05. Hinduism participants have stronger paranormal belief compared with Christian participants and Taoist participants have stronger paranormal belief than Christian participants.

This significant finding is consistent with Shiah, Tam, Wu and Chang (2010) which stated that the followers from traditional Chinese religious will have higher paranormal belief than Christian followers. Christian followers have also been considered as having the least paranormal belief compared to other religions (Shiah et al., 2010). As the finding of this current study can be seen in the descriptive statistics (Figure 8.0, p. 39), Christian participants scored the lowest while Taoist participants scored the highest in paranormal belief. Since Taoism is considered as Chinese religion, the finding of this study is concordant with the result of Shiah et al. (2010).

Why different religious beliefs can cause a large difference in the level of paranormal belief? One of the reasons might be different religions have their own doctrines; some religions require their followers to believe in a lot of paranormal phenomena and eventually make them to have high paranormal belief. On the other hand, some religions such as Christianity, in this current study, have less paranormal belief as the followers are prohibited to believe in most of the paranormal phenomena and can only believe in religious paranormal phenomena. It has been supported by Emmons and Sobal (1981) which proposed that Baptists (a branch from Protestant) tend to endorse religious paranormal phenomena only, but not the non-religious paranormal phenomena. Thus, the level and types of the paranormal belief of the religious followers are largely depending on and affected by their relig


Our experts are ready to assist you, call us to get a free quote or order now to get succeed in your academics writing.

Get a Free Quote Order Now