What weird beliefs do Americans hold today? That question has been partially answered by the just-released Chapman University Survey of American Fears, which included a number of questions related to ‘paranormal beliefs’, ranging from belief in Bigfoot and psychic powers to visits by aliens and haunted locations. The survey was conducted in April of 2017 on a random sample of 1207 adults from across the United States.
Firstly, I’m not sure what a ‘fear’ survey has to do with paranormal beliefs, other than the usual tenuous connections about ‘trying to make sense of the world’, or literally being scared of UFOs and Bigfoot. And I’d also take issue with the description of some of the things on the list as ‘paranormal’. That being said, it’s interesting to take a look at where people’s opinions lie for a number of these topics, given we cover so many of them here on the Daily Grail.
The most popular beliefs, by quite some way, are that ‘Ancient advanced civilizations, such as Atlantis, once existed’, and that ‘Places can be haunted by spirits’, with more than half of all respondents siding with these views. The belief in advanced ancient civilizations has risen from 40% in the 2016 survey to 55% this year, while the belief in hauntings has nudged up from 46%.
Meanwhile, the belief that ‘Aliens have visited the Earth in the past’ (ie. ancient aliens) has almost doubled in the two years since the the 2015 survey (from 20% up to 35%)! Are we seeing some influence here from the glut of ‘reality TV shows’ that explore ancient mysteries and haunted locations (Ancient Aliens etc.)? It seems unlikely – as skeptic Jason Colavito notes, the rise in the popularity of these theories has occurred “in a time when the number of cable TV shows devoted to ancient astronauts and lost civilizations has declined markedly from their 2011-2013 peak”.
On the other hand, the popular punching-bags of skeptics – psychics and fortune tellers – languish down the list, with less than 1 in 5 believing this group can “foresee the future” (19%). Note, there’s a distinction between the often conflated ‘psychic powers’ and ‘mediumship’ (‘seeing the future’, vs ‘talking to the dead’), as the 2014 survey contained both as options, and the percentages were 14% and 26% respectively. It’s not clear why ‘communication with the dead’ was not on this year’s survey.
Sorry cryptozoology fans: Bigfoot is struggling to compete with Atlantis and UFOs, with just 16% professing belief that he is real (although it’s up from 11% a couple of years ago). And interestingly, just 1 in 4 Americans surveyed said they didn’t hold any of these ‘paranormal beliefs’.
The lingering question for me about the survey is: why isn’t faith in a god considered a paranormal belief, and as such one of the options?