We Want to Believe

This post is Part 1 in a series of posts investigating the traits of people who believe in the paranormal.

Part 1: We Want to Believe
Part 2: Who Wears Tinfoil Hats?
Part 3: Spirituality and a Belief in the Paranormal
Part 4: Traits of the Skeptic
Part 5: The Politics of Paranormal

Part 1: We Want to Believe

Paranormal: adjective; denoting events or phenomena that are beyond the scope of normal understanding

We are living in a golden age of science, but the popularity of programs like Stranger ThingsGhost Hunters, and The X-Files shows our culture still has an appetite for the distinctly unscientific. Moreover, recent polls indicate that many Americans believe paranormal phenomena are real, rather than purely fictional elements of entertainment. Choosing from a selection of common supernatural beliefs, 85% of SameGrain users declared a belief in at least one (the full results are shown in the figure below). The most popular belief is in angels, with ghosts, alternate universes, alien visits, and psychics rounding out the top 5.

Figure: Percent of SameGrain users who hold each paranormal belief.

This month, online "news" aggregator Paranormal News has featured stories about alien abductions at Area 51, a new home video of the Jersey Devil, and a zombie living in Florida. Readers can browse stories on more than 50 different topics ranging from animal mutilations and time travel to reincarnation and witchcraft.

I find it interesting that the website's editors (and presumably its readers) find all these topics related. To me, this suggests that some people don't just have one or two paranormal beliefs, but rather have a proclivity for all things paranormal. Indeed, this trend is born out in the data: if someone has one supernatural belief, they are more likely to have others as well. For example, people who believe in ghosts are more likely to also believe in angels, psychics, zombies, and all other paranormal phenomena SameGrain polled. The figure below shows the difference between the rate of belief for all users (green) and those who believe in ghosts (orange).

Figure: Percent of all SameGrain users (green) and those who believe in ghosts (orange) who hold each paranormal belief. The difference between the percent who believe is shown at the end of the bar (orange minus green).

Notice that people who believe in ghosts are more likely to believe in all other paranormal phenomena as well. Among the biggest differences between all users and those who believe in ghosts is the percentage who believe in psychics, alien visits, or alternate universes. Said another way, if someone believes in ghosts, they are much more likely to also believe in psychics, aliens, or alternate universes. The reverse is also true - someone who does not believe in ghosts is much less likely to believe in psychics or aliens. In statistics, we say that these beliefs are correlatedmeaning that one is predictive of the other. The plot below shows the amount of correlation we find between each pair of paranormal beliefs. Green means the answers are highly correlated such that a person who has one belief is more likely to have the other belief. Red would indicate that the two beliefs are anti-correlated, i.e., someone who has one belief is less likely to have the other. Note that all beliefs are correlated (green), some more than others.

Of special note is that some beliefs form correlated groups. All of the "monsters" - zombies, vampires, werewolves, and (to a lesser extent) Big Foot - are highly correlated with each other. This means that people who believe in one monster tend to believe in all of them. Indeed, people who believe in zombies are more than 10 times more likely to believe in Big Foot, vampires, or werewolves. In the chart you can also identify a group that includes the pseudo-scientific phenomena of time travel, alternate universes, and alien visits. Ghosts and psychics form a correlated pair as well.

You can find people like you - including those with the same paranormal beliefs - on SameGrain.

Who Wears Tinfoil Hats?

This post is Part 2 in a series of posts investigating the traits of people who believe in the paranormal.

Part 1: We Want to Believe
Part 2: Who Wears Tinfoil Hats?
Part 3: Spirituality and a Belief in the Paranormal
Part 4: Traits of the Skeptic
Part 5: The Politics of Paranormal

Part 2: Who Wears Tinfoil Hats?

Conspiracy theorists have more in common than just a tendency to believe in aliens, ghosts, and werewolves (see Part 1). I calculated the correlation between believing in conspiracy theories and all other user traits users can choose on SameGrain (there are millions of possible answers). In the figure below, I show a selection of some of the results. A person is more likely to believe in conspiracy theories if they have the characteristics in green (use marijuana, are spiritual but not religious, believe in astrology, and like reggae music). Conversely, they are less likely if they have the characteristics in red (pro gun control, attend church, don't believe in fate, and don't believe in astrology). Characteristics like having a dog or being an introvert do not indicate if a person is more or less likely to believe in conspiracies.

Figure: Strength of correlation between a belief in conspiracy theories and a selection of the SameGrain users' characteristics.

I followed this same procedure for all the paranormal beliefs on SameGrain. There are too many characteristics to show here, but the figure below shows a small sample of some of the strongest correlations I found. The plot is very dense and there is much that can be learned from it. Some of the more interesting findings are annotated 1-9.

Figure: Strength of correlation between a belief in conspiracy theories and a large selection of the SameGrain users' characteristics. Some of the more interested findings are enumerated 1-9.

You can find people like you - including those with the same paranormal beliefs - on SameGrain.

Spirituality and a Belief in the Paranormal

This post is Part 3 in a series of posts investigating the traits of people who believe in the paranormal.

Part 1: We Want to Believe
Part 2: Who Wears Tinfoil Hats?
Part 3: Spirituality and a Belief in the Paranormal
Part 4: Traits of the Skeptic
Part 5: The Politics of Paranormal

Part 3: Spirituality and a Belief in the Paranormal

Angels, ghosts, and psychics - all commonly associated with the spirit of the dead - form an interesting trio of paranormal beliefs. Angels have a distinctly religious place in society. While ghosts and psychics are not traditionally part of church doctrine, my analysis suggests they blur the lines between religion, spirituality, and secularism. 

The below figure shows the amount of correlation between someone's personal traits and their paranormal beliefs. Green means the answers are highly correlated such that a person who has the indicated trait is more likely to have the paranormal belief. Red indicates the trait and belief are anti-correlated, i.e., someone who has the trait is less likely to have the belief. The plot is very dense and there is much that can be learned from it. Some of the more interesting findings are annotated 1-9.

Figure: Strength of correlation between a belief in conspiracy theories and a large selection of the SameGrain users' characteristics. Some of the more interested findings are enumerated 1-9.

Presumably because of their affiliation with religion - and Christianity in particular - a belief in angels is much more likely for people with religious and/or culturally and politically conservative traits (see annotation 1). These include characteristics such as attending church, believing in creationism, being pro-life, and voting for the presidential candidate from the more conservative political party, Donald Trump. 

A belief in angels is also strongly correlated with being spiritual, but not particularly religious. In fact, spiritual, non-religious people are more likely to have all other paranormal beliefs, particularly in psychics. Women, too, show a strong correlation with a belief in psychics, ghosts, angels, and other phenomena. This is in stark contrast to religious conservatives, who tend to have an aversion to all other paranormal beliefs besides angels. In other words, religious conservatives are more likely to believe in angels only, while spiritual people are more likely to believe in angels and other paranormal phenomena. 

Interestingly, Donald Trump's supporters look markedly different than typical religious conservatives. While they have similar rates of belief in angels, they are also more likely to have other paranormal beliefs, particularly in Big Foot, conspiracy theories, and ghosts. This agrees with the general political convention that Trump voters are not typical of the Republican Party, and also explains why Trump supporters are receptive to the conspiracy theories the candidate promotes (Obama birth certificate, autism-vaccination link, JFK assassination, etc.).

The above analysis suggests two distinct camps of angel believers. The first, motivated by their religious convictions, believes in angels only. The second consists of spiritual, non-religious people who hold a more general belief in a spirit world of which angels, ghosts, and psychics are all a part.

You can find people like you - including those with the same paranormal beliefs - on SameGrain.

Traits of the Skeptic

This post is Part 4 in a series of posts investigating the traits of people who believe in the paranormal.

Part 1: We Want to Believe
Part 2: Who Wears Tinfoil Hats?
Part 3: Spirituality and a Belief in the Paranormal
Part 4: Traits of the Skeptic
Part 5: The Politics of Paranormal

Part 4: Traits of the Skeptic

The below figure shows the amount of correlation between someone's personal traits and their paranormal beliefs. Green means the answers are highly correlated such that a person who has the indicated trait is more likely to have the paranormal belief. Red indicates the trait and belief are anti-correlated, i.e., someone who has the trait is less likely to have the belief. The plot is very dense and there is much that can be learned from it. Some of the more interesting findings are annotated 1-9.

Figure: Strength of correlation between a belief in conspiracy theories and a large selection of the SameGrain users' characteristics. Some of the more interested findings are enumerated 1-9.

The traits of skeptics are those that are most strongly anti-correlated with a belief in the paranormal (red in the figure). People are less likely to believe in the paranormal if they are politically liberal or not religious nor spiritual.

Note that people with liberal (pro-choice, pro gun control, voting for Clinton) and non-religious (believe in evolution, never pray) traits are all much less likely to believe in angels. This is common to all liberal/non-religious traits. However, people who are pro-choice or are concerned about the environment are more likely to believe in alternate universes, alien visits, and time travel. Clinton voters are more likely to believe in psychics. (This could be explained by the large support Clinton enjoys from women voters.)  This is in contrast to people who never pray and believe in evolution, who are less likely to believe in anything paranormal. This suggests that just like there are two camps of angel believers (see Part 3), there are also two camps of angel non-believers. One camp doesn't have any paranormal beliefs at all. These people are characterized by being non-religious and having some liberal political beliefs. The other camp, while also not believing in angels, does have some paranormal beliefs.

You can find people like you - including those with the same paranormal beliefs - on SameGrain.

The Politics of Paranormal

This post is Part 5 in a series of posts investigating the traits of people who believe in the paranormal.

Part 1: We Want to Believe
Part 2: Who Wears Tinfoil Hats?
Part 3: Spirituality and a Belief in the Paranormal
Part 4: Traits of the Skeptic
Part 5: The Politics of Paranormal

Part 5: The Politics of Paranormal

The analyses in Parts 3 and 4 of this blog series demonstrate some clear differences between Trump and Clinton voters. Trump voters are similar in beliefs to religious conservatives in that they strongly believe in angels, but are also more likely to believe in conspiracy theories and Big Foot. Clinton voters' beliefs, on the other hand, more closely resemble those of liberals and the non-religious - they are less likely to believe in any paranormal activity (particularly angels), but are slightly more likely to believe in psychics.

The plot below clearly shows the differences between the two candidate's supporters. The y-axis shows the percent of all SameGrain users who believe in the phenomena indicated by the symbol. The x-axis shows the percent more likely a Trump/Clinton supporter is to have that belief. Those to the left are more common to Clinton supporters, while those to the right are more common to Trump's. The color of the symbol shows how statistically confident it is that one candidate's supporters believe more than the others'. The symbol must be outside of the shaded region for the difference between the candidates to be considered statistically significant (99% confidence).

Trump supporters are more likely to believe in most paranormal phenomena - angels, ghosts, alien visits, conspiracy theories, and Big Foot. Clinton supporters are only more likely to believe in psychics. The biggest difference between Trump and Clinton is with a belief in Big Foot; Trump supporters are 28% more likely to believe in the mythological ape-like creature. Clinton supporters' stronger belief in psychics is likely due to to the fact that women, from whom she enjoys strong support, are more likely to believe in psychics (see Part 4). Note also that Clinton supporters are nearly 40% more likely to have no paranormal beliefs. These voters are the non-religious group discussed in Part 4 who are less likely to believe in anything paranormal.

You can find people like you - including those with the same paranormal beliefs - on SameGrain.