Monthly Archives: October 2008

The psychology of paranormal belief

NEWSWEEK reports:

If you take the word “normal” as characteristic of the norm or majority, then it is the superstitious and those who believe in ESP, ghosts and psychic phenomena who are normal. Most scientists and skeptics roll their eyes at such sleight of word, asserting that belief in anything for which there is no empirical evidence is a sign of mental pathology and not normalcy. But a growing number of researchers, in fields such as evolutionary psychology and neurobiology, are taking such beliefs seriously in one important sense: as a window into the workings of the human mind. The studies are an outgrowth of research on religious faith, a (nearly) human universal, and are turning out to be useful for explaining fringe beliefs, too. The emerging consensus is that belief in the supernatural seems to arise from the same mental processes that underlie everyday reasoning and perception. But while the belief in ghosts, past lives, the ability of the mind to move matter and the like originate in normal mental processes, those processes become hijacked and exaggerated…

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Inability to find one’s way has neurological roots, study finds

USA Today reports:

[A] woman described in the journal Neuropsychologia has an especially severe, lifelong history of getting lost. She, like Roseman, can get to work along a long-practiced path — but sometimes gets lost walking home from her bus stop, say researcher Giuseppe Iaria and his colleagues at the University of British Columbia and Vancouver General Hospital. She goes nowhere else alone. At 43, she lives with her father, does not drive and “does not have a nice social life,” Iaria says.

In a series of tests, the researchers found that the woman has an inability to create mental maps of the environment. When shown a simple virtual neighborhood on a computer, she can eventually learn a route — but what takes typical people one to five minutes takes her more than half an hour.

The root of her difficulties, Iaria says, most likely lies in a part of the brain called the hippocampus…