Perceiving patterns in chaotic data predicts irrational beliefs

22 Nov

The world was supposed to end last weekend. This prediction appears to be false. But why do people believe in these kind of claims?

From The European Journal of Social Psychology:

A common assumption is that belief in conspiracy theories and supernatural phenomena are grounded in illusory pattern perception. In the present research we systematically tested this assumption. Study 1 revealed that such irrational beliefs are related to perceiving patterns in randomly generated coin toss outcomes. In Study 2, pattern search instructions exerted an indirect effect on irrational beliefs through pattern perception. Study 3 revealed that perceiving patterns in chaotic but not in structured paintings predicted irrational beliefs. In Study 4, we found that agreement with texts supporting paranormal phenomena or conspiracy theories predicted pattern perception. In Study 5, we manipulated belief in a specific conspiracy theory. This manipulation influenced the extent to which people perceive patterns in world events, which in turn predicted unrelated irrational beliefs. We conclude that illusory pattern perception is a central cognitive mechanism accounting for conspiracy theories and supernatural beliefs.

2 Responses to “Perceiving patterns in chaotic data predicts irrational beliefs”

  1. Enrique Guerra-Pujol November 22, 2017 at 8:50 am #

    The same goes for beliefs in elaborate conspiracy theories. For example, perhaps the world did end last weekend, but because we are brains in vats (and because the vats are located in another galaxy) we are not aware of the end of the world yet.

  2. Kathy H November 22, 2017 at 9:30 am #

    It is so common to look for patterns to predict the future but as we know, if that worked, Hillary would be our president.

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