03 November 2015

Paranormal Fear Addendum

I hope you enjoyed last Friday’s blog post about the Chapman University Survey of American Fears (This is Scary!). Since the post was a Halloween warm-up, you may have wondered why I hardly mentioned the paranormal. I was saving it for today.

The Chapman survey asked the 1,541 adults to rate their level of agreement with seven paranormal beliefs. ("Paranormal" refers to events or phenomena that are beyond the scope of normal scientific understanding. You decide whether the beliefs surveyed fell in that category.) 

The percentages of those surveyed who agreed or strongly agreed with the beliefs were:
41% - places can be haunted by spirits
26% - the living can communicate with the dead
21% - dreams foretell the future
20% - aliens visited Earth in ancient times
18% - aliens visited Earth in modern times
14% - astrologers, fortune tellers and psychics can foresee the future
11% - Bigfoot is real

About 1 in 4 Americans believe
the living can communicate
with the dead. (Ouija board
photo from multiple websites)
Nearly half of the survey respondents held no paranormal beliefs, at least none of the beliefs listed in the survey. Viewed differently, just over half of those surveyed professed to having one or more of the beliefs--over 13% of the respondents held 1 belief and that dropped to about 3% who held 6 or 7 beliefs. Those having the most beliefs tended to be female, unmarried, non-white, Catholic and living in the Northeast, with no college degree and low church attendance.

Gallup Surveys of Paranormal Beliefs

Between 1990 and 2005, Gallup also conducted a few surveys of Americans’ belief in the paranormal. Those surveys asked if respondents believe in, don’t believe in or were not sure about 10 to 12 beliefs.

Many of the beliefs checked were similar to, though not exactly the same, as those in the Chapman survey. In place of Bigfoot, Gallup included witches and reincarnation and asked directly about extra-sensory perception. For its 2005 survey, Gallup dropped earlier survey queries about extraterrestrials, psychic or spiritual healing and devil possession.

Comparing Gallup and Chapman University Surveys

Responses to the same beliefs changed from one Gallup survey to another and relating the Gallup survey results to those of the Chapman survey may be misleading.

For instance three-fourths of the respondents in Gallup’s 2005 survey held one or more paranormal beliefs compared to just over half in the Chapman 2015 survey. Did belief in the paranormal decline over the past 10 years or is the decrease due to differences in the number and type of beliefs surveyed, the wording to describe the beliefs or the survey methodology?

About 4 in 10 Americans believe
places can be haunted by spirits
(Photo from multiple websites)
Similarly, 41% of the Chapman survey respondents believe places can haunted by spirits. Gallup’s 2005 poll found 37% of the respondents believed houses can be haunted but 32% believed ghosts or the spirits of dead people can come back in certain places/situations.

Unlike the Chapman survey, Gallup’s 2005 survey found no statistically significant differences among people by age, gender, education, race or geographic region. Christians were more likely than non-Christians to hold paranormal beliefs (75% vs. 66%).

Since I mentioned the beliefs, you may be interested to learn that Gallup’s 2005 survey found 21% of the respondents believed in witches, 20% believed in reincarnation and 41% believed in ESP. Some of you probably guessed that last one.


Chapman University reports on the 2015 survey and paranormal beliefs:
Gallup surveys of paranormal beliefs:


  1. Warren:

    Nice comparison with the Gallup polls! I also blogged about the paranormal section of the Chapman survey, and calculated an Agreement Score, which showed people didn't agree with the paranormal:


  2. Once again, very nice. And thank you!