Was that just a Strange Coincidence or am I Psychic? Examining the Relationships Between Anomalistic Belief, Reasoning, and Cognitive Bias

Author: Toby Prike

Prike, Toby, 2018 Was that just a Strange Coincidence or am I Psychic? Examining the Relationships Between Anomalistic Belief, Reasoning, and Cognitive Bias, Flinders University, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work

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Anomalistic beliefs are commonly held throughout the general population despite being unsupported by scientific evidence (Chapman University 2017; Moore, 2005; Shannon-Missal, 2013). Therefore, it is important for psychologists to explain how and why people come to endorse anomalistic beliefs despite the lack of solid evidence to support them. Chapter 2 outlines the development of the Anomalistic Belief Scale (ABS), which was designed with a specific focus on the distinction between theoretical and experiential anomalistic beliefs. Factor analysis of the ABS supported the theoretical/experiential distinction, with a factor found that covered belief in both paranormal and extra-terrestrial experiences (experiential factor) as well as three separate for different belief types factors; one for theoretical paranormal beliefs (PSI factor), one for theoretical extra-terrestrial beliefs (ET factor), and one for experiential and theoretical life after death beliefs (LAD factor). Chapter 2 also examined the relationship between anomalistic beliefs and the conjunction fallacy and in Chapter 3 the relationships between anomalistic beliefs and both misperception of chance and the base rate fallacy were examined. The results for Chapters 2 and 3 showed that although overall anomalistic belief was related to poorer probabilistic reasoning, only the experiential factor of the ABS was related to poorer performance for both the conjunction fallacy and misperception of chance. Results for the base rate fallacy showed a relationship with overall anomalistic belief but no individual ABS factor was a unique predictor.

Chapters 4, 5, and 6 shifted the focus from probabilistic reasoning to the relationship between anomalistic belief and cognitive bias. In Chapter 4, biases against disconfirmatory evidence (BADE), biases against confirmatory evidence (BACE), liberal acceptance, and jumping to conclusions (JTC) were examined. The results showed that BADE, BACE, and liberal acceptance were positively correlated with anomalistic belief, however, only liberal acceptance uniquely predicted anomalistic belief. None of the relationships between anomalistic belief and the biases remained once delusion proneness was controlled for, except for the relationship between BADE and experiential anomalistic beliefs. Chapter 5 explored the relationship between anomalistic belief and the accuracy of inferences drawn from news articles. After analytical (vs. intuitive) thinking and political belief were controlled for, anomalistic belief was not related to inference accuracy. Chapter 6 again focused on BADE, BACE, and liberal acceptance but analytical thinking was also included and the focus was expanded from anomalistic belief to non-evidence based beliefs more broadly. Lower analytical thinking and greater liberal acceptance were related to several non-evidence based beliefs, however, the biases and analytical thinking did not explain a significant proportion of the relationships between the non-evidence based beliefs.

The current thesis has demonstrated that anomalistic beliefs are related to a variety of probabilistic reasoning deficits and to stronger cognitive biases. The findings also clearly show the importance of considering the type of anomalistic belief held (experiential vs. theoretical) rather than relying on broad overall belief measures. Cumulatively, the work in this thesis has contributed to the development of our psychological understanding of anomalistic beliefs.

Keywords: anomalistic belief, paranormal belief, cognitive bias, reasoning

Subject: Psychology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2018
School: College of Education, Psychology and Social Work
Supervisor: Michelle Arnold