Are people who believe in the paranormal crazy?

If you were to meet a random person who believes in the paranormal on the street, chances are they would not be “crazy” or “out of their mind.”

The fact is, the majority of the US population believes in at least one paranormal topic, whether that be cryptids like Bigfoot or Mothman, ghosts and hauntings, psychic powers, or aliens visiting Earth, and some evidence suggests paranormal belief will only rise in the years to come.

If the majority of a population believes in something, it seems odd to argue that that belief makes one mentally unsound or deviant.

The Data on paranormal belief

Large percentages of people across all demographic groups believe in the paranormal. The 2014 Chapman University Survey of American Fears found that almost half of people surveyed who had completed at least an undergraduate degree believed places could be haunted. There is no real evidence that belief in the paranormal is necessarily correlated to low intelligence.

There is evidence, however, that people with a low stake in conformity are more likely to admit to holding paranormal beliefs.

Sociologists Christopher D. Bader, Joseph O. Baker, and F. Carson Mencken make this observation in their book Paranormal America. People with a high stake in conformity are those who benefit from being respectable in society.

You may have noticed that, oddly enough, even though paranormal belief is widespread, it is sometimes viewed with skepticism, suspicion, or derision in mainstream society. Because of this, people with a high standing in society may feel pressure to disassociate with paranormal beliefs.

Therefore, someone who is highly educated, paid well, and married is less likely to report paranormal beliefs than someone who is poorly educated, single, and makes a lower wage. 

Nevertheless, we need to be careful before jumping to conclusions. Bader, Baker, and Mencken point out in their book that when they met members of the North American Wood Ape Conservancy, a Bigfoot hunting organization, they found the members were highly educated people working in professional fields.

The fact is, there are many paranormal believers even among those who have a high stake in conformity.

Paranormal beliefs are normal

Even if you do not believe in the paranormal, there is not a strong reason to see paranormal believers and experiencers as out of their minds. Perfectly sane people are capable of failures in perception. I talk about some of these potential failures in perception in my post on whether ghosts are real.

Even hallucinations, seeing or hearing things that are not there, occur in perfectly sane people. We need to back off of pathologizing uncommon or idiosyncratic features of human consciousness and perception.

Ultimately, many perfectly rational people believe in and have experienced the paranormal.

I am not claiming there is no person whose paranormal beliefs and experiences are linked to mental pathology, but I am claiming there are many more people whose beliefs and experiences are not linked to pathology.

So start asking your friends and the people you meet about their paranormal beliefs and experiences. Though many people may be hesitant to disclose if they do not know you well, you may be surprised by the responses you get. As Jeffrey Kripal has said, the paranormal is our secret in plain sight. It is not the purview of the “crazy.” It is a fairly normal part of human experience.


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