, Volume 44, Issue 4, pp 332–337 | Cite as

The psychology of paranormal beliefs

  • D. F. Marks
Multi-author Review Investigating the Paranormal


Investigation of paranormal claims has failed to find any repeatable paranormal phenomena, yet beliefs in such phenomena are extemely prevalent. Some of the psychological mechanisms which support these beliefs are described. Mental imagery, subjective validation, coincidence, hidden causes, and fraud all contributeto the folklore in this field. Magical thinking is as evident today as it ever has been. Recent research suggests that increased skepticism concerning paranormal claims can result from special educational procedures which emphasize critical thinking rather than learning scientific facts.

Key words

Psychology paranormal beliefs motivation mental imagery coincidence hidden causes subjective validation fraud education hoax-dehoax procedure 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Bartlett, F. C., Remembering: A Study in Experimental and Social Psychology. Cambridge University Press, London 1932.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Diaconis, P., Statistical problems in ESP research. Science201 (1978) 131–136.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Evans, C., Parapsychology: What the questionnaire showed. New Scientist57 (1973) 209.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Galton, F., Inquiries Into Human Faculty and Its Development. Dent, London 1883.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Gray, T., University course reduces beliefs in paranormal. Skeptical Inquirer8 (1984) 247–251.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Hansel, C. E. M., ESP and Parapsychology: A Critical Re-evaluation. Prometheus Books, Buffalo, N.Y. 1980.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Hilgard, E. R., Divided Consciousness: Multiple Controls in Human Thought and Action. Wiley, New York 1977.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Koestler, A., The Roots of Coincidence. Hutchinson, London 1972.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Kurtz, P., CSICOP after ten years: Reflections on the ‘Transcendental Temptation’. Skeptical Inquirer10 (1986) 229–232.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Marks, D. F., Sensory cues invalidate remote viewing experiments. Nature292 (1981) 177.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Marks, D. F., Investigating the paranormal. Nature320 (1986) 119–124.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Marks, D. F., and Clarkson, J. K., An explanation of conservatism in the bookbag and poker chips situation. Acta psychol.39 (1972) 145–160.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Marks, D. F., and Kammann, R., Information transmission in remote viewing experiments. Nature274 (1978) 680–681.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Marks, D., and Kammann, R., The Psychology of the Psychic Prometheus Books, Buffalo, N.Y. 1980.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Marks, D., and McKellar, P., The nature and function of eidetic imagery. J. ment. Imagery6 (1982) 1–124.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Marks, D. F. and Scott, C., Remote viewing exposed. Nature319 (1986) 444.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Marks, D. F., and Warnock, K., Paranormal beliefs and the induction of skepticism (in preparation).Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Markwick, B., The Soal-Goldney experiments with Basil Shackleton: New evidence of data manipulation. Proc. Soc. psych. Res.56 (1978) 250–277.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Morris, S., Believing in ESP: Effects of dehoaxing. Skeptical Inquirer4 (1980) 18–31.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Nisbett, R., and Ross, L., Human Inference. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J. 1980.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Padgett, V., Benassi, V. A., and Singer, B. F., Belief in ESP among psychologists. Skeptical Inquirer5 (1980) 47–48.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Scott, C., Why parapsychology demands a critical response, in: A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology, pp. 497–502. Ed. P. Kurtz. Prometheus Books, Buffalo, N.Y. 1985.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Sebeok, T. A., and Rosenthal, R. (Eds), The Clever Hans Phenomenon: Communication with Horses, Whales, Apes, and People. New York Academy of Sciences, New York 1981.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Singer, B., and Benassi, V. A., Occult beliefs. Am. Scient.69 (1981) 49–55.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Soal, S. G., and Goldney, K. M., Experiments in precognitive telepathy. Proc. Soc. psych. Res.47 (1943) 21–150.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Targ, R., and Puthoff, H. E., Information transmission under conditions of sensory shielding. Nature251 (1974) 602–607.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Targ, R., and Puthoff, H., Mind Reach: Scientists Look At Psychic Ability. Delacorte, New York 1977.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Tart, C. T., Puthoff, H. E., and Targ, R., Information transmission in remote viewing experiments. Nature284 (1980) 191.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Tversky, A., and Kahneman, D., Judgement under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases. Science185 (1974) 1124–1131.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Wagner, M. W., and Monnet, M., Attitudes in college professors toward extrasensory perception. Zetetic Scholar5 (1979) 7–16.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Wilson, S. C., and Barber, T. X., The fantasy-prone personality: Implications for understanding imagery, hypnosis, and parapsychological phenomena, in: Imagery: Current Theory, Research, and Application, pp. 340–390. Ed. A. A. Sheikh. Wiley, New York 1983.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. F. Marks
    • 1
  1. 1.School of PsychologyMiddlesex PolytechnicEnfield(England)

Personalised recommendations