Americans' Belief in Psychic and Paranormal Phenomena Is up Over Last Decade

by Frank Newport and Maura Strausberg

Belief in psychic healing and extrasensory perception top the list

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- What exactly do Americans believe in when it comes to the paranormal, the occult, and "out-of-this-world" experiences? The Gallup Poll recently updated its audit of Americans' beliefs in a variety of these types of phenomena. The results suggest a significant increase in belief in a number of these experiences over the past decade, including in particular such Halloween-related issues as haunted houses, ghosts and witches. Only one of the experiences tested has seen a drop in belief since 1990: devil possession. Overall, half or more of Americans believe in two of the issues: psychic or spiritual healing, and extrasensory perception (ESP), and a third or more believe in such things as haunted houses, possession by the devil, ghosts, telepathy, extraterrestrial beings having visited earth, and clairvoyance.

Basic Beliefs

The list of 13 experiences tested in the poll is eclectic, ranging from Halloween- and occult-oriented phenomena such as ghosts and witches, to mental experiences such as ESP, clairvoyance, and psychic or spiritual healing.

Americans' overall beliefs in the experiences tested range from a slight majority who believe in the power of the human mind to heal the body, to a low of 15% who believe in the New Age concept of channeling or allowing a "spirit-being" to assume control of a body during a trance.

Here is the overall pattern of results:

 

For each of the following items I am going to read you, please tell me whether it is something you believe in, something you're not sure about, or something you don't believe in. How about -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

 

2001 May 10-14
(sorted by "believe")


Believe


Not sure

Don't believe

%

%

%

Psychic or spiritual healing or the power of the human mind to heal the body

54

19

26

ESP or extrasensory perception

50

20

27

That houses can be haunted

42

16

41

That people on this earth are sometimes possessed by the devil

41

16

41

Ghosts or that spirits of dead people can come back in certain places and situations

38

17

44

Telepathy, or communication between minds without using the traditional five senses

36

26

35

That extraterrestrial beings have visited earth at some time in the past

33

27

38

Clairvoyance, or the power of the mind to know the past and predict the future

32

23

45

That people can hear from or communicate mentally with someone who has died

28

26

46

Astrology, or that the position of the stars and planets can affect people's lives

28

18

52

Witches

26

15

59

Reincarnation, that is, the rebirth of the soul in a new body after death

25

20

54

Channeling, or allowing a "spirit-being" to temporarily assume control of a human body during a trance

15

21

62



Belief in a Number of These Phenomena Is up Since 1990

Belief in several of these experiences has not changed significantly over the last 11 years. For seven experiences tested, however, there has been an increase in belief of more than five percentage points:

  • Haunted houses
  • Ghosts
  • Witches
  • Communicating with someone who has died
  • Psychic or spiritual healing
  • That extraterrestrial beings have visited earth
  • Clairvoyance

There has been a significant downturn in belief in just one of the experiences tested: possession by the devil, in which 41% of Americans believe today, compared to 49% in 1990.

 

For each of the following items I am going to read you, please tell me whether it is something you believe in, something you're not sure about, or something you don't believe in. How about -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

 

2001 May 10-14
(sorted by "believe")

Believe
2001

Believe
1990

CHANGE OVER TIME

%

%

%

Psychic or spiritual healing or the power of the human mind to heal the body

54

46

+8

ESP or extrasensory perception

50

49

+1

That houses can be haunted

42

29

+13

That people on this earth are sometimes possessed by the devil

41

49

-8

Ghosts or that spirits of dead people can come back in certain places and situations

38

25

+13

Telepathy, or communication between minds without using the traditional five senses

36

36

+0

That extraterrestrial beings have visited earth at some time in the past

33

27

+6

Clairvoyance, or the power of the mind to know the past and predict the future

32

26

+6

That people can hear from or communicate mentally with someone who has died

28

18

+10

Astrology, or that the position of the stars and planets can affect people's lives

28

25

+3

Witches

26

14

+12

Reincarnation, that is, the rebirth of the soul in a new body after death

25

21

+4

Channeling, or allowing a "spirit-being" to temporarily assume control of a human body during a trance

15

11

+4



Differences by Subgroup

Belief in these phenomena shows significant differences within major demographic and belief groups of the American population:

  • Age

There are interesting differences in belief in these varied experiences by the age of the respondent. Younger Americans -- those 18-29 -- are much more likely than those who are older to believe in haunted houses, in witches, in ghosts, that extraterrestrials have visited earth, and in clairvoyance. There is little significant difference in belief in the other items by age group. Those 30 and older are somewhat more likely to believe in possession by the devil than are the younger group.

  • Gender

Women are slightly more likely than men to believe in ghosts and that people can communicate with the dead. Men, on the other hand, are more likely than women to believe in only one of the dimensions tested: that extraterrestrials have visited earth at some point in the past.

  • Education

Americans with the highest levels of education are more likely than others to believe in the power of the mind to heal the body. On the other hand, belief in three of the phenomena tested goes up as the educational level of the respondent goes down: possession by the devil, astrology and haunted houses.

  • Importance of Religion

Perhaps not surprisingly, the major difference in belief in these phenomena by importance of religion focuses on the devil: 55% of those who say religion is very important in their daily lives say they believe in devil possession, compared to just 14% of those who say religion is "not very" important to them. Religion is also correlated to belief in extraterrestrials: Those for whom religion is very important are less likely to say they believe in beings from other worlds that may have visited this planet than are those who are less religious.

For each of the following items I am going to read you, please tell me whether it is something you believe in, something you're not sure about, or something you don't believe in. How about -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

 

 

AGE

GEN-
DER

 

EDUCATION

IMPORTANCE OF RELIGION

Total

18-29

30-49

50+

M

F

Post-
grad

Col-
lege Grad Only

Some Col-
lege

High Sch. or Less

Very

Fair-
ly

Not very

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Psychic or spiritual healing or the power of the human mind to heal the body

54

49

56

54

53

55

65

57

57

48

55

50

58

ESP or extrasensory perception

50

48

50

50

47

52

52

53

48

49

50

48

48

Telepathy, or communication between minds without using the traditional five senses

36

33

36

37

38

34

41

38

36

35

35

37

41

Clairvoyance, or the power of the mind to know the past and predict the future

32

42

33

26

33

31

29

27

34

34

32

33

32

That people can hear from or communicate mentally with someone who has died

28

36

30

20

24

31

25

28

27

29

28

30

20

Channeling, or allowing a "spirit-being" to temporarily assume control of a human body during a trance

15

22

16

10

13

17

14

12

15

17

16

15

11

Reincarnation, that is, the rebirth of the soul in a new body after death

25

25

22

28

25

24

22

19

21

30

24

25

26

That people on this earth are sometimes possessed by the devil

41

36

42

44

39

43

32

35

41

46

55

28

14

That extraterrestrial beings have visited earth at some time in the past

33

48

31

29

38

29

25

29

36

35

28

40

41

Astrology, or that the position of the stars and planets can affect people's lives

28

32

26

29

26

30

16

20

29

33

28

30

28

That houses can be haunted

42

58

44

32

40

44

33

37

41

48

43

42

38

Ghosts or that spirits of dead people can come back in certain places and situations

38

46

44

29

34

43

36

39

38

40

39

39

36

Witches

26

34

30

16

27

24

22

24

30

24

26

24

27

Survey Methods

The results reported here are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,012 adults, 18 years and older, conducted May 10-14, 2001. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For each of the following items I am going to read you, please tell me whether it is something you believe in, something you're not sure about, or something you don't believe in. How about -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

A. ESP or extrasensory perception

 

 

Believe in

Not sure about

Don't believe in

No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

         

2001 May 10-14

50

20

27

3

         

1996 Sep 3-5

48

22

27

3

1990 Jun 14-17

49

22

29

--




B. That people on this earth are sometimes possessed by the devil

 

 

Believe in

Not sure about

Don't believe in

No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

         

2001 May 10-14

41

16

41

2

         

1996 Sep 3-5

42

13

43

2

1991 Oct 24-27

37

18

45

--

1990 Jun 14-17

49

16

35

--




C. Psychic or spiritual healing or the power of the human mind to heal the body

 

 

Believe in

Not sure about

Don't believe in

No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

         

2001 May 10-14

54

19

26

1

         

1990 Jun 14-17

46

20

34

--




D. Telepathy, or communication between minds without using the traditional five senses

 

 

Believe in

Not sure about

Don't believe in

No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

         

2001 May 10-14

36

26

35

3

         

1996 Sep 3-5

35

24

39

2

1990 Jun 14-17

36

25

39

--




E. That houses can be haunted

 

 

Believe in

Not sure about

Don't believe in

No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

         

2001 May 10-14

42

16

41

1

         

1996 Sep 3-5

33

19

47

1

1991 Oct 24-27

28

18

54

--

1990 Jun 14-17

29

17

54

--




F. That extraterrestrial beings have visited earth at some time in the past

 

 

Believe in

Not sure about

Don't believe in

No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

         

2001 May 10-14

33

27

38

2

         

1990 Jun 14-17

27

32

41

--




G. Clairvoyance, or the power of the mind to know the past and predict the future

 

 

Believe in

Not sure about

Don't believe in

No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

         

2001 May 10-14

32

23

45

*

         

1996 Sep 3-5

27

25

46

2

1990 Jun 14-17

26

23

51

--



H. Astrology, or that the position of the stars and planets can affect people's lives

 

 

Believe in

Not sure about

Don't believe in

No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

         

2001 May 10-14

28

18

52

2

         

1996 Sep 3-5

25

22

52

1

1994 Dec 16-18

23

16

61

--

1990 Jun 14-17

25

21

54

--



I. Ghosts or that spirits of dead people can come back in certain places and situations

 

 

Believe in

Not sure about

Don't believe in

No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

         

2001 May 10-14

38

17

44

1

         

1996 Sep 3-5

30

19

50

1

1991 Oct 24-27

28

17

55

--

1990 Jun 14-17

25

19

56

--



J. Reincarnation, that is, the rebirth of the soul in a new body after death

 

 

Believe in

Not sure about

Don't believe in

No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

         

2001 May 10-14

25

20

54

1

         

1996 Sep 3-5

22

22

55

1

1994 Dec 16-18

27

20

53

--

1990 Jun 14-17

21

22

57

--



K. That people can hear from or communicate mentally with someone who has died

 

 

Believe in

Not sure about

Don't believe in

No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

         

2001 May 10-14

28

26

46

*

         

1996 Sep 3-5

20

22

56

2

1994 Dec 16-18

28

21

51

--

1990 Jun 14-17

18

20

62

--




L. Witches

 

 

Believe in

Not sure about

Don't believe in

No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

         

2001 May 10-14

26

15

59

*

         

1996 Sep 3-5

19

11

69

1

1991 Oct 24-27

16

13

71

--

1990 Jun 14-17

14

8

78

--




M. Channeling, or allowing a "spirit-being" to temporarily assume control of a human body during a trance

 

 

Believe in

Not sure about

Don't believe in

No opinion

 

%

%

%

%

         

2001 May 10-14

15

21

62

2

         

1996 Sep 3-5

12

21

64

3

1990 Jun 14-17

11

22

67

--



* Less than 0.5%

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Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/4483/Americans-Belief-Psychic-Paranormal-Phenomena-Over-Last-Decade.aspx
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