Coincidences and Paranormal Belief

University dissertation from Stockholm : Department of Psychology, Stockholm University

Abstract: In this thesis it is argued that coincidences play an important role in the formation of belief, including belief in the paranormal. Three papers are presented. In the first paper, four studies are conducted to investigate whether the often-reported remarkable correspondences in telepathy studies (using the ganzfeld procedure) could be accounted for by chance. The results suggest that they can indeed come about by chance, and that they are almost expected to happen given the large number of variables that can be perceived as “remarkably connected.” The second paper investigates whether individuals who are more sensitive to coincidences are more likely to be believers in the paranormal. Participants were exposed to artificial coincidences, which were formally defined as less or more probable, and were asked to provide remarkability ratings. The results suggest that individual variation in sensitivity to coincidences is associated with belief in the paranormal. It is concluded that because some individuals are more likely to be surprised by coincidences, these individuals may be exposed to a greater number of coincidences that are difficult or impossible to explain naturally. This exposure may lead to the development of paranormal belief. The last paper was an explorative study investigating how sensitivity to coincidences is affected by requiring individuals to assess coincidences in probabilistic terms (reflecting controlled processing) compared to relying on the emotion of surprise (automatic processing), while taking associative looseness into consideration. It was concluded that automatic and controlled processing may have an effect on the judgments of coincidences, but only when individual differences in paranormal belief or associative processing is taken into account.

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