Anxious behaviour linked to paranormal belief

Mental toughness reduces ‘magical thinking', psychology study shows

Anxious behaviour linked to paranormal belief

Anxious behaviour linked to paranormal belief

People who are more conscious about the risks around them are more likely to believe in the paranormal, new research shows. 

Researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University have conducted a study, published in Psychological Reports, to investigate relationships between how mentally tough someone is in relation to their perception of risk and paranormal beliefs.

They found that higher mental toughness protected people against the tendency to inflate risk within everyday life and therefore, these people would be less likely to believe in the paranormal. Those with lower mental toughness showed the reverse.

Coping and control

Mental toughness is a set of positive qualities that assist a person to cope with demanding situations and events.

Researchers Dr Kenneth Drinkwater, Dr Neil Dagnall, Dr Andrew Denovan, and Dr Andrew Parker measured this using the Mental Toughness Questionnaire that assesses four characteristics: 

- Commitment: perseverance and the ability, despite problems or obstacles, to carry perform tasks successfully

- Challenge: view challenges as opportunities and seek opportunities for self-development

- Control: the ability to influence life and keep anxieties in check

- Confidence: self-assurance and belief in own abilities and social skills

The questionnaire asked 174 men and woman a series of everyday scenarios relating to mental toughness, risk and paranormal belief – participants answered on a scale from one (strongly agree) to five (strongly disagree).


Dr Neil Dagnall said:  "This study shows there is an association between belief in the paranormal, lack of control and anxiety. We have observed that magical thinking is likely to occur when individuals believe they lack control over external events.

"One reason for this could be that paranormal beliefs represent an attempt to establish control and reduce anxiety – in this context, mental toughness shows a person has control and reduces anxiety and should be associated with lower levels of paranormal belief."


The findings are consistent with other research that people with higher levels of confidence find the risks in everyday situations as less intimidating.

This is the first piece of research to examine this in relation to paranormal belief.

Dr Dagnall said: "The research is important because it suggests that mental toughness training could produce a more refined understanding of risk. Appreciation of risk is a fundamental element of behaviour change. Encouraging or discouraging certain activities and behaviours is important to personal and social health and safety."

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