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Are Paranormal Beliefs a Product of Coping Strategies, Subjective Worldviews or Both?

Abstract
This study examined whether paranormal beliefs are a product of coping mechanisms, subjective worldviews or both – using multiple regression to do so. Two hundred and seventy-six second year psychology students partook in this survey design (221 women, 55 men and less than 10 identifying as ‘other’). It was found that all variables of the coping mechanism theory (self-esteem, self-respect, emotional stability and perceptions of others’ power) failed to predict paranormal beliefs and neither did the subjective worldview variable of openness, whereas the other subjective variables of anthropomorphism, attitudes towards dreams and belief in aliens all significantly predicted paranormal beliefs. It was concluded that people are more likely to believe in the paranormal due to their subjectivity rather than using their beliefs as an explanation for inexplicable events.
Are Paranormal Beliefs a product of Coping Strategies, Subjective Worldviews or both?
It is reasonable to assume that certain phenomena can be disproved if no evidence or proven personal experiences are available (Truly Fallacious, 2017). However, out of all the participants in the 2015 American Survey of Fears, 41.4% still believed in activities of the paranormal (Blakemore, 2015). In a New Zealand context, one study compared religious beliefs with those of the paranormal and found that 47% of participants believed in some sort of supernatural reality (Wilson, Bulbulia & Sibley, 2013). Wilson et al.’s findings are intensified with the 2007 case of 14-year-old Janet Moses, the Wainuiomata girl who was killed during her family-performed exorcism, highlighting the harmful consequences of paranormal beliefs (“Teen Exorcism,” 2009). According to Tobacyk and Milford (1983), phenomena are considered ‘paranormal’ when they are outside the range of scientific principles, physical possibilities, human norms and capabilities. But nowadays with the reliance on experts and empirical evidence in our life choices, alongside the advancements in modern scientific thought, why do plenty of people still believe in the paranormal? The aim of this study is to contest two competing theories of paranormal beliefs – to explore what best explains the surprisingly high prevalence of believers?
Two approaches that can potentially explain why people hold paranormal beliefs is the coping theory and the subjective worldview theory.
Coping theory describes the tendency to resort to paranormal beliefs as an explanation for negative mindsets, with individuals finding comfort in blaming their internal plagues on unruly influences (Irwin, 2009). In support of this theory, Irwin (1992) examined how paranormal beliefs were formed and found a significant relationship between beliefs and emotional traumas in 72 Psychology undergraduates. Irwin concluded that negative life events frequently precede paranormal beliefs; blaming the paranormal on one’s internal strife serves as a coping mechanism as it gives the individual a sense of meaning for why the negativity is happening. Lillqvist and Lindeman (1998) examined the role of astrology in coping with negative internal states. In a study of 40 social science undergraduates, it was found that beliefs in astrology were positively associated with internal crises. The idea that we are influenced by the movement and position of celestial bodies defies scientific logic, defining it as paranormal, suggesting that paranormal beliefs are also associated with internal crises. It was concluded that the paranormal belief of astrology plays a significant role in coping with stressful and traumatic events, since the moving planets are thought to be causing negative situations. Both studies suggest that the role of coping mechanisms is important when examining why people hold paranormal beliefs.
The subjective worldview theory suggests that certain people have a more open and intuitive mentality, who base their experiences of the world on feelings rather than thought, making them more willing to accommodate alternative ideas and paranormal beliefs (Irwin, 2009). In support of this theory, Lasikiewicz (2015) examined thinking styles and paranormal belief, finding that experiential thinking positively correlated with paranormal beliefs. In the study of 82 participants aged between 18 and 62, it was concluded that those who are more intuitive and emotionally led (deemed experiential thinkers) hold stronger paranormal beliefs than those who think more rationally and logically. Lasikiewicz suggested that experiential intellectuals think in a more rapid, empiricist manner and tend to appreciate the existence of intangible phenomena regardless of the lacking physical evidence – denoting their subjective worldview. The experimental study of Sappington (1990) found that participant levels of paranormal belief could be manipulated by increasing their emotional arousal. It was found that increased emotional arousal influenced the 40 undergraduate’s reasoning processes, with a result that heightened their subjectivism levels – making them more accepting of paranormal beliefs. Concluded is that those who think subjectively are more likely to reject rationality and believe in the paranormal. Both studies suggest that the role of subjective worldviews is important in understanding why people hold paranormal beliefs.
The aim of the current study is to test whether coping theory or the subjective worldview theory is superior in explaining paranormal beliefs – or if they are equally effective in exploring why people hold paranormal beliefs. Four variables were chosen to test each theory, which are outlined below.
Coping Theory Variables
Self-Esteem. Self-esteem can be described as an individual’s confidence in their abilities and worth (Rosenberg, 1965). Conspiracy belief can be replaced with paranormal belief, being a proxy-variable, both sharing the aspect of irrationality and go against social norms. Thus, the finding that conspiracy beliefs correlated with low self-esteem in employed American participants is expected to be seen with paranormal beliefs (Cichocka, Marchlewska & Golec de Zavala, 2016). The authors concluded that individuals with low self-esteem are likely to resort to believing in the paranormal due to the coping mechanism they serve; these individuals are likely to find comfort in believing that confounding influences are causing their low self-esteem. Based on the literature, we expect to find a negative relationship between self-esteem and paranormal beliefs.
Self-Respect. An individual with high self-respect distinguishes themselves as honoured, dignified and principled (Kumashiro, Finkel & Rusbult, 2002). To date, there is no existing literature examining paranormal beliefs with self-respect; however, self-respect is considered a component of self-esteem (Kennedy, 2005) and we expect to find the same relationship as theorised above. Therefore, we expect to find a negative relationship between self-respect and paranormal belief.
Emotional Stability. Emotional Stability can be defined as an individual’s ability to remain calm and stable when faced with certain stressors – it is part of the Big Five personality traits (Donnellan, Oswald, Baird & Lucas, 2006). Lindeman and Aarnio (2006) studied 3,261 Finnish university students to examine the dimensions of paranormal belief and found that beliefs were positively predicted by emotional instability. Concluded is that some individuals with low emotional stability tend to cope with their negative mindsets by believing external influences are to blame. Based off the literature, we hypothesise that a negative relationship between emotional stability and paranormal belief will be apparent.
Perception of Others’ Power. In a general sense, individuals who have internalised themselves as powerless feel they lack control or influence over their lives (Anderson & Galinsky, 2006). Thalbourne, Dunbar and Delin (1995b) used 169 first year psychology students to examine correlates of paranormal beliefs. They found that paranormal beliefs positively correlated with an external locus of control, concluding that those who believe outside forces have more power over their life events tend to resort to paranormal beliefs to explain this influence. We chose to measure an individual’s sense of power by gauging their perceptions of others’ power over an important relationship. If an individual perceives that the other person has higher power in their relationship, this equates to a low sense of power of the individual. Therefore, we expect a positive relationship between perceptions of others’ power and paranormal beliefs (this is equivalent to a negative relationship between sense of power and paranormal beliefs).
Subjective Worldview Variables
Anthropomorphism. Anthropomorphism is the tendency to attribute characteristics or behaviours of humans to non-human objects or beings (Willard & Norenzayan, 2013). In a study of 492 Canadian undergraduate psychology students, Willard and Norenzayan (2013) aimed to find the predictors of religious and paranormal beliefs. Anthropomorphism was found to be related to paranormal belief, concluding that people who engage in the intuitive thinking of anthropomorphism also tend to do so with paranormal beliefs – fuelling their subjective worldview of thinking. Based off the literature, we predict that a positive relationship between anthropomorphism and paranormal beliefs will be apparent.
Openness. One of the Big Five personality traits, openness to experience compels individuals to have an active imagination, aesthetic sensitivity, preference for diversity, intellectual curiosity and awareness of inner feelings (Donnellan et al., 2006). One study examined 97 undergraduate arts students and aimed to find the relationship between parapsychological experiences and factors of the Big Five personality traits (Zingrone, Alvarado & Dalton, 1989-99). It was found that parapsychological beliefs correlated positively with openness, concluding that those with heightened cognitive openness were more likely to accept the existence of paranormal phenomena. With support from this study, we hypothesise that high levels of openness will positively correlate with paranormal belief.
Attitude Towards Dreams. Certain people enjoy interpreting and finding meaning in their dreams – and thus hold a more positive attitude towards dreaming (Thalbourne, 1995a). Thalbourne (1995a) aimed to find the characteristics of believers and non-believers of the paranormal. In using 282 undergraduate psychology students, Thalbourne found that believers were measurably more involved with their dream interpretations and recalls than non-believers. It was concluded that the tendency of believers to interpret dreams in an intuitive manner, as opposed dismissing them in a rational approach, signals their subjective worldview that is more accepting to supernatural phenomena. Therefore, we predict that a positive relationship will be found between beliefs in the paranormal and attitudes towards dreams.
Belief in Aliens. Paranormal beliefs tend to be associated with one another – if an individual believes in one it is likely that they will believe in others (Tobacyk & Milford, 1983). A method of assessing paranormal belief was successfully created by Tobacyk and Milford (1983), which effectively correlated witchcraft, superstition, spiritualism, extraordinary lifeforms and precognition with paranormal beliefs. Assuming the above pattern will be seen with another irrational and subjective variable, it is hypothesised that belief in aliens will also positively correlate with paranormal belief.
We aim to test whether the coping theory or the subjective worldview theory is superior in explaining paranormal beliefs, or if they are equally effective in exploring why people hold paranormal beliefs, using a sample of undergraduate psychology students. If it is the case that both theories do an equally good job of explaining paranormal belief, then we would expect all individual variables to remain significant predictors of paranormal belief in a multiple regression analysis. If it is the case that paranormal beliefs are formed predominantly because these beliefs serve as a coping mechanism, then we would expect the coping variables of self-esteem, self-respect, emotional stability and personal sense of power to remain significant predictors of paranormal belief while the predictive strength of the remaining predictors decrease. If the reverse is true and it is the case that paranormal beliefs are formed primarily because of a subjective worldview, then we would expect the worldview variables of anthropomorphism, openness to experience, attitudes towards dreams and belief in aliens to remain significant predictors of paranormal belief while the predictive strength of the coping variables decrease.
Method
Participants
Two hundred and seventy-six second-year university students took part in this study; participants were enrolled in the Research Methods in Psychology course at Victoria University of Wellington at the time. Gender demographics ranged from 221 women, 55 men and less than ten who identified as ‘Other’. Participation was voluntary for this study and with the intention of protecting participant anonymity, individual gender and age inputs were disguised. Age was alternatively recorded into brackets, with 167 participants in the 18-19 year old cluster; 70 in the 20-21 year old cluster; and 39 in the 22+ year old cluster. Ethical approval was granted for this study by the Victoria University of Wellington School of Psychology Human Ethics Committee.
Measures
Paranormal beliefs were measured with a single item, ‘how likely is it that ghosts exist?’ Participant responses were measured on a 1 (extremely unlikely) to 7 (extremely likely) Likert scale, with higher scores indicating higher beliefs in the paranormal.
Coping Mechanism Variables.
For all measures below, participant responses were made on a 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree) Likert scale, unless otherwise indicated. For all measures, any reverse items were recoded and then an average scale score was created, yielding a final score between 1 and 7.
Self-Esteem. To assess the construct of self-esteem, the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSES; Rosenberg, 1965) was used. This ten-item scale contains five reverse items, with an example item being ‘I feel that I have a number of good qualities’ and a reverse item being ‘I feel I do not have much to be proud of.’ Higher scores indicated higher levels of self-esteem. The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale displayed good internal reliability, with a Cronbach’s alpha of .91.
Self-Respect. The scale by Kumashiro, Finkel, and Rusbult (2002) assessed the variable of self-respect. This self-respect scale contains three reversed items in its four-item scale, with the positive item being ‘I have a lot of respect for myself,’ and an example reverse item being ‘I should treat myself better than I do.’ Higher scores from this measure indicated higher levels of self-respect. The Cronbach’s alpha for this scale was .67, a lower value than the cut-off point of .70. However, all of the individual items of this self-respect scale displayed acceptable reliability, with corrected item-total correlations ranging from .29 – .58.
Emotional Stability. The emotional stability subscale of the Mini International Personality Item Pool (IPIP; Donnellan, Oswald, Baird, & Lucas, 2006) was used to measure the construct of emotional stability. This IPIP subscale contains four items, two of which are reversed, with a positive item example being ‘I am relaxed most of the time’ and a reverse item example being ‘I get upset easily.’ Higher scores indicated higher levels of emotional stability. The Cronbach’s alpha for this scale was .69, a lower value than the cut-off point of .70. However, all of the individual items of this emotional stability subscale displayed acceptable reliability, with corrected item-total correlations ranging from .27 – .57.
Perceptions of Others’ Power. To measure this construct, certain items from the Generalized Sense of Power Scale (Anderson & Galinsky, 2006) were used. Initially, participants were asked to think of an important relationship they hold with someone and then answer the subsequent questions in regard to that relationship. Four items were utilised, with one being a reverse item – a positive item example being ‘I think they have a great deal of power’ and the reverse item being ‘they have ideas and opinions that I often ignore’. Higher scores indicated a greater perception that the important, thought-of individual has more power in the relationship – or that the participant has a less perceived personal sense of power. The Cronbach’s alpha for this scale was .41, a lower value than the cut-off point of .70. However, all of the individual items of this Generalized Sense of Power Scale displayed acceptable reliability, with corrected item-total correlations ranging from .21 – .43.
Subjective Worldview Variables.
For all measures below, participant responses were made on a 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree) Likert scale, unless otherwise indicated. For all measures, any reverse items were recoded and then an average scale score was created, yielding a final score between 1 and 7.
Openness to Experience. The construct of openness to experience was measured by the openness subscale of the Mini International Personality Item Pool (IPIP; Donnellan, Oswald, Baird, & Lucas, 2006). This subscale contains four items, with three of those being reversed – the positive item being ‘I have a vivid imagination’ and a reverse item example being ‘I am not interested in abstract ideas’. Higher scores indicated higher levels of openness to experience. The openness subscale of the Mini International Personality Item Pool displayed good internal reliability, with a Cronbach’s alpha of .76.
Attitudes Towards Dreams. Certain items from the Attitudes Towards Dreams Questionnaire (Schredl, Niirnberg, & Weiler, 1996) assessed participant attitudes towards dreams. Five items were used, which included three reverse items, with a positive example item being ‘If I am very moved by a dream, I try to make sense of it’ and a reverse example item being ‘My dreams are all the same to me.’ Higher scores on this measure equated to more positive attitudes towards dreams. The Attitudes Towards Dreams Questionnaire displayed good internal reliability, with a Cronbach’s alpha of .70.
Tendency to anthropomorphise. The concept of anthropomorphism was assessed with certain items from the Individual Differences in Anthropomorphism Questionnaire (IDAQ; Waytz, Cacioppo, & Epley, 2010). Two examples of positive items from this scale are ‘to what extent does time have free will?’ and ‘to what extent do cats have free will?’ Higher scores indicated a higher tendency to anthropomorphise. The Cronbach’s alpha for this scale was .67, a lower value than the cut-off point of .70. However, all of the individual items used from this Individual Differences in Anthropomorphism Questionnaire displayed acceptable reliability, with corrected item-total correlations ranging from .22 – .48.
Belief in Aliens. The extent to which participants believe in aliens was measured by a single item: ‘how likely is it that aliens exists?’ Higher scores indicated higher levels of belief in aliens.
Procedure
Participants were first made aware of their invitation to partake in this study during lectures, with an announcement on Blackboard (an online learning module) linking them to the online questionnaire. Online access to the survey program SurveyMonkey was required for participation, which took approximately 20-30 minutes to complete. Participants completed these measures as part of a broader package of surveys not relevant to the current study, which were able to be carried out at their leisure. Participants were informed of their right to withdraw before the submission of their responses and any questions that they didn’t wish to answer were allowed to remain without reply. Participants were presented with an information page at the beginning of the study, outlining the study’s general research purpose and what would be involved if participants agreed to partake. The contact information of researchers was also made available, giving opportunity for any further questions, comments or concerns to be made by participants. After the completion of the questionnaire a debriefing sheet was presented to participants, illustrating the purpose of the research in a more detailed approach than previous.
Results
The ranges, means, and standard deviations for paranormal belief and each of the predictor variables are presented in Table 1.
Table 1.
Descriptive Statistics for Scores of Paranormal Belief and the Eight Predictor Variables.

  Mean (SD) Range
Paranormal beliefs 3.83 (1.99) 1.00 – 7.00
Self-esteem 4.61 (1.25) 1.20 – 7.00
Self-respect 3.75 (1.21) 1.00 – 7.00
Emotional stability 3.77 (1.23) 1.00 – 7.00
Perceptions of others’ power 5.07 (0.82) 1.50 – 7.00
Openness 5.42 (1.12) 1.25 – 7.00
Positive dream attitudes 4.97 (1.07) 2.00 – 7.00
Anthropomorphism 3.74 (0.96) 1.00 – 6.13
Belief in aliens 4.67 (2.01) 1.00 – 7.00

Pearson’s correlations were calculated between paranormal beliefs and each predictor variable measuring the coping mechanism theory. There were significant weak, negative relationships between paranormal belief and self-esteem ((274) = -.12, p < .05), self-respect (r (274) = -.16, p < .05), and emotional stability (r (274) = -.14, < .05).  As expected, higher levels of self-esteem, self-respect, and emotional stability were associated with lower levels of paranormal belief respectively. There was a significant weak, positive relationship between paranormal belief and perceptions of others’ power, r (274) = .12, < .05. As expected, more power attributed to the other person in a relationship was associated with higher levels of paranormal belief.
Pearson’s correlations were also calculated between paranormal beliefs and each predictor variable measuring the subjective worldview theory. There were significant weak, positive relationships between paranormal belief and positive attitudes towards dreams ((273) = .24, < .05) and belief in aliens ((273) = .16, < .05) respectively. There was a significant moderate, positive relationship between paranormal belief and anthropomorphism, (270) = .32, < .05. As expected, greater belief in aliens, more positive attitudes towards dreams, and greater levels of anthropomorphism were all associated with higher levels of paranormal belief. Contrary to expectations, the correlation between paranormal belief and openness was non-significant, (274) = -.03, = .59.
To test the two competing theories of paranormal belief, a multiple regression was performed. Paranormal belief was regressed onto the eight variables testing the coping mechanism and subjective worldview theories. The model predicting paranormal belief was significant, F (8, 262) = 7.21, < .05. The model explained 16 % of the variance in paranormal belief (Adjusted R2 = .16).
Of the coping mechanism variables, self-esteem (β = -.05, = 0.58, = .56), self-respect (β = -.06, = 0.74, = .46), emotional stability (β = -.05, = 0.69, = .49), and perceptions of others’ power (β = .11, = 1.93, = .06) were all non-significant predictors of paranormal belief. Self-esteem, self-respect, emotional stability, and perceived relationship power did not explain any variance in paranormal belief over and above that of the other predictor variables.
Of the subjective worldview variables, positive dream attitudes (β = .18, = 2.99, < .05), anthropomorphism (β = .24, = 4.08, < .05), and belief in aliens (β = .16, = 2.76, < .05) were significant weak, positive predictors of paranormal belief. Openness was a non-significant predictor of paranormal belief (β = -.08, = 1.28, = .20). This indicates that openness did not explain any variance in paranormal belief over and above that of the other predictor variables.
Based on the results of the multiple regression, it appears that the subjective worldview theory provides a stronger explanation for paranormal beliefs.
Discussion
The aim of the current study was to test whether coping theory or the subjective worldview theory is superior in explaining paranormal beliefs – or if they are equally effective in exploring why people hold paranormal beliefs.
It was found that all variables relative to the coping theory (self-esteem, self-respect, emotional stability and perceptions of others’ power) did not significantly predict paranormal beliefs when compared to the subjective worldview theory, negating the hypothesis that paranormal beliefs are formed predominantly due to their ability of being a coping mechanism.
However, the subjective worldview variables of positive dream attitudes, anthropomorphism and belief in aliens significantly predicted paranormal beliefs over and above the coping theory, but the variable of openness failed to be a significant predictor. These findings negate the hypothesis that both theories would do an equally good job of explaining paranormal belief, but supported the prediction that paranormal beliefs are formed primarily due to subjective worldviews. These results imply that paranormal believers are more inclined to believe in other unscientific phenomena, such as dream meanings, anthropomorphism or aliens, but do not necessarily use their beliefs to explain negative mindsets or have openness to experiences.
Nevertheless, it was found that when compared the subjective worldview was superior in explaining why people believe in the paranormal as opposed to the coping mechanism theory.
Past literature supporting the coping mechanism theory is inconsistent with the current study’s findings (Cichocka et al., 2016; Lindeman & Aarnio, 2006; Thalbourne et al., 1995b). Without being compared to other theories, all coping mechanism literature pieces included in the introduction gave support towards the variables being significant predictors of paranormal belief. However, the results of this study are contradictory to Lillqvist and Lindeman’s (1998) findings that paranormal beliefs play a significant role in coping with traumatic events – when contrasted against the subjective worldview theory. The findings of the current study might have differed from previous research since the two theories were no longer examined in isolation of each other, but instead were compared in order to find whether one would be superior in explaining paranormal beliefs, leading to the discrepancy in the regression results with the other studies. Our findings do not imply that the coping theory is incapable of explaining why people hold paranormal beliefs, but when compared, the subjective worldview theory prevails in explaining the occurrence of these beliefs over and above the coping theory.
Three out of the four of the subjective worldview variables significantly predicted paranormal beliefs, denoting their consistency with previous research (Sappington, 1990; Willard & Norenzayan, 2013; Thalbourne, 1995a). However, the variable of openness failed to significantly predict paranormal beliefs – an inconsistent finding to Zingrone et al.’s study (1989-99). Perhaps the conflicting results occurred due to the exclusivity of the sample Zingrone et al. (1998-1999) used. Participants were all selected from a creative population at differing music and arts colleges in Scotland; the choice of sample could have potentially lowered the generalisability of their findings as the participant’s artistic experiences could have heightened their intellectual curiosities and aesthetic sensitivities – correlating to an extraordinarily high openness to experience. Perhaps the overly-creative nature of being an art student when compared to other majors, such as psychology or physics, led to an abnormally high level of openness to experience that later correlated with paranormal beliefs – which was not observed with our sample. Zingrone et al. (1998-1999) noted that their sample was not representative, and this fact could have affected their results, meaning that our study’s contrasted sampling population and their differing creative abilities could have led to the discrepancies between openness and paranormal beliefs.
Implications
For one to have a subjective worldview means they are ruled by their emotions, are more open-minded and intuitively lead, making them more willing to accommodate paranormal beliefs as a consequence (Irwin, 2009). However, those in use of paranormal beliefs as a coping mechanism are dealing with mental stress and distraught, a situation which is more adverse than the aforementioned one (Irwin, 1992). From this, perhaps the person with the heightened subjectivism would associate their paranormal beliefs in a more positive light than the person looking to cope with their struggles, leading to the implication based on our findings that those who believe in the paranormal tend to do so in a more favourable rather than negative manner.
Applications
An application for this approach is for filmmakers of the horror genre to understand that not everyone holds a negative association and are troubled by ghosts, enabling filmmakers to be more successful in eliciting fear from their audiences by using other methods instead. Out of all the participants in the 2015 American Survey of Fears, 41.4% believed in paranormal spirits and only 8.7% of the sample reported to be afraid of them – supporting the idea that the vast majority are unconcerned with paranormal activities (Blakemore, 2015). Kord (2016) analysed varying horror films between 1970-2014 and calculated the extent to which certain films elicited fear and guilt out of its viewers. The researcher found that up until recently, films oversaturated with ghosts left audiences feeling unafraid and “dissatisfied” with the movies they watched due to the “unrealistic” on-screen paranormal portrayals – implying that both believers and nonbelievers were left unswayed (Kord, 2013, p. 70). With this knowledge, filmmakers in the horror industry can in future make movies surrounding other premises, such as serial killers or clowns, as it appears that certain people are unconcerned by inclusion of ghosts in popular culture – leading to eventual economic gain from a horror movie that may create fear in the first place.
Limitations
Despite being able to collect data from a reasonable large sample at a rather low cost, the methodology of this survey design study has its limitations. A 1-7 Likert scale was used to collect responses for each included scale, allowing for a ‘vague midpoint’ to be an available choice. This means that participants did not have to take an absolute stand on the item at question, whether that be reversed or not, allowing them to remain noncommittal throughout a whole range of questions by choosing the option to feel ‘neutral’. Midpoints can be problematic as respondents may use it as a “dumping ground” for when they are not knowledgeable enough about the content being asked in the survey, they feel ambivalent about the topic or they want to provide an answer deemed more socially acceptable – possibly skewing the results of the study (Chyung, Roberts, Swanson & Hankinson, 2017, p. 18). Guy and Norvell’s (1977) study compared the use of both a 5-point and 4-point Likert scale on their university participants and found that some of the participants who selected the midpoint did not necessarily hold ‘neutral’ beliefs about the question asked – showing how the reliability and validity of results can be threatened. These factors could have occurred in our current study, eliminating unknown numbers of valid answers by participants, altering our results and offering conclusions that do not accurately reflect whether paranormal beliefs are indeed a product of coping mechanisms, subjective worldviews or both. One possible way to remedy this for the future could be to use a Likert scale with an even number of points, such as a 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree) scale, where omitting the vague midpoint can become a protective factor against gaining non-meaningful data from participants (Chyung et al., 2017).
Future Research
Due to the nature of a survey design where multiple regression was used, one cannot imply causation from our results about the two theories – a limitation of the study in itself. If the study was to be repeated to overcome this correlation does not equate to causation aspect, we would manipulate participant exposure to stress in order to see what causal effect it has on the manifestation of paranormal beliefs. Lasikiewicz (2015) found that high-perceived stress tended to promote paranormal beliefs in rational thinkers; perhaps a future experiment could manipulate stress in a way to alter a person’s acceptance of paranormal beliefs – as stress is said to increase an individual’s desire for control over a situation, leading to superstitious thinking as a means to regain control (Langer, 1975; Keinan, 2002). A future pre-test/post-test could be used to see the effects of stress on paranormal belief. The pre-test and post-test would require participants to fill out the same counterbalanced survey that was used in the current study, however the intervention would invite participants to wear an Electroencephalogram (EEG) headset whilst completing a time-pressured arithmetic task with negative feedback to induce stress. Al-Shargie, Kiguchi, Badruddin, Dass, Hani and Tang (2016) used this method to successfully induce mental stress on their participants, with the effective temporal resolution aspect of EEG allowing the measurement of mental stress to be calculated – enabling experimenters to see the causal effects of stress, and what implications it has on the coping or subjective worldview theories in relation to paranormal beliefs.
The aim of the current study was to examine whether paranormal beliefs are a product of coping mechanisms, subjective worldviews or both. It was found that paranormal beliefs are formed primarily because of a subjective worldview, where three out of the four variables were found to be significant predictors over and above the predictive strength of all the coping mechanism variables. It was concluded that people are more likely to believe in the paranormal due to their subjectivity rather than using their beliefs as an explanation for inexplicable events.
However, this conclusion is based off the predictions of multiple regression – meaning only with future manipulation and experimentation will we be able to identify what causes paranormal beliefs.
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