How to Make People Believe in ESP: Tell Them Scientists Think It's Bogus

By Smriti Rao | April 22, 2010 2:06 pm

brain-puzzle-mazePity the poor scientists–no matter how hard they try to convince the public that science is one of the few things you can trust in this crazy, mixed-up world, public faith in science is still tough to come by.

A new study (pdf) conducted at the University of Maryland examined people’s belief in extrasensory perception (ESP), the supposed paranormal phenomenon of mind-reading. The study not only found that people tend to disregard the views of the scientific community when it comes to paranormal activity, it also showed that they’re inclined to disagree with the scientists.

For the study, the researchers had 160 college students watch a video of a person performing brilliantly on a card-guessing exercise. What the students didn’t know is that the player was discreetly being fed all the answers. To the viewers, it appeared that she was either extremely lucky or had some sort of sixth sense, writes online magazine Miller McCune.

After watching the video, the students were asked a series of questions, including if they believed in ESP and if they thought that the woman in the video had extrasensory powers.

Miller McCune writes:

The participants were broken up into four groups. Those in Condition One were informed that 25 percent of the public believes in ESP, but the scientific community rejects the concept. Those in Condition Two were told that more than 90 percent of the public believes in ESP, but the scientific community considers it bogus.

Those in Condition Three were told that 25 percent of the public believes in ESP, and the scientific community is becoming more open to the idea. Those in Condition Four were informed that more than 90 percent of the public believes in ESP, and the scientific community is beginning to warm to the possibility it is real.

The scientists found that individuals were more likely to report belief in ESP when they were told that a greater percentage of the public believed in it. But, the researchers wrote, “We found no effects indicating that science rejecting a claim led individuals to be less likely to believe the claim.” In fact, those students who were told that scientists dismiss ESP were more likely to declare that the phenomenon is real.

The researchers say there are several possible explanations for this odd result. It might be, they say, that people see paranormal activity as a matter of belief and not evidence. Or it could be that when it comes to psychic coolness, people placed more faith in their peers’ opinions than in  those of scientists. But there’s a final, more ominous interpretation, say the researchers: “The findings may result from a decreasing trust in the institution of science.”

Miller McCune writes that the news is particularly worrisome for climatologists–whose warnings about global warming’s dire effects are increasingly being pooh-poohed by a cynical public.

Related Content:
The Intersection: Are Americans Becoming More Distrustful of Science?
Discoblog: UFO Sightings: The Shapes They Are A-Changing
Discoblog: How To Chat With an Alien: The Official Guide
80beats: Damage to One Brain Region Can Boost “Transcendent” Feelings
80beats: Pick a Number. Now, a Brain Scan Will Reveal What It Is.

Image: iStockphoto

  • Kadiya

    Or, it could be that people understand that what science knows today is less than it will know in a decade. It used to be that “science” told people the Earth was flat and that the heavens revolved around it. Now we know differently. Tomorrow, what new thing will science discover that will reshape our world view?

  • Jon Klar

    Actually “science” as we know it didn’t exist until the late 1400’s early 1500’s with people like Galileo and Francis Bacon, well after myths like these were dispelled. It’s not a matter of someone smart or important saying that something is true, science is based on repeatable direct observation. This is what makes it trustworthy, as opposed to a random idea that “seems cool” so it must be true.

  • Aaron

    This is one of the unfortunate pitfalls of humanity, we tend to dismiss things offhand that we don’t understand. ESP has a very simple explanation ‘magic’. While science is difficult to understand. People tend to shy away from ideas that they don’t understand simply from fear of not understanding them.

  • Charanjeet Singh Lamba (gnosiologist : astral`scientist)

    Indeed a good article to present an unknown stuff beyond Science… by dint of studying the extrasensory perception (ESP), the supposed paranormal phenomenon of mind-reading.

    Laconically, lets ponder to ascertain the truth that “KNOWLEDGE IS NOT AT MERCY OF SOMEONE BELIEF OR FAITH ; IT HAS ITS OWN TIME : SPACE : LIGHT TO PRESENT ITSELF.” Unknowingly we misspell our Perception with Knowledge…

    Knowledge and all of God is ONE, whilst Human is the source of both.
    Faith or Belief is father of Knowledge, whilst the mother is Science.
    Science is Knowledge of Known : Knowledge of Unknown is God.
    Myth is Know of the Unknown : Unknown to be Known is Mystic.

    In compendium, the relation between the Mind and the Objective-world (matter) is called as Para`Physics, whereas the relation between the Mind and the meta-subjective world (consciousness) is called as Omnijectivism. The combo of both is the arena of Astral Science.

    Science has yet to surpass the bandages and barrages of meta-physics to see the dawn of a new physics “para-physics”, whereas the study as narrated herein above for the extrasensory perception (ESP), the supposed paranormal phenomenon of mind-reading is the herald of the same… Lets welcome with open hands.

    Good Wishes & Greetings.

  • Jello

    I don’t beleive this fact because scientists beleive in it.

  • Kylee_hanninen

    What is the popultion affected by ESP?

  • Don Salmon

    A study of 1000 scientists showed that 67 percent accepted the possibility of ESP. Maybe the problem is not the public’s perception of science but bad reporting like this article?


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