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Loneliness Breeds Belief in Supernatural

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posted on Jan, 25 2008 @ 04:54 PM
Just saw Thisarticle on Yahoo news.

Apparently some of us are very lonely. I guess this same belief can be pushed into believing in a God or demons, or ?

An interesting read nonetheless.

People who feel lonely are more likely to believe in the supernatural, whether that is God, angels or miracles, a new study finds.


Humans have evolved as social creatures, so loneliness cuts to the quick. Living in groups was critical to the survival and safety of our ancient ancestors, and "complete isolation or ostracism has been tantamount to a death sentence," said University of Chicago researcher Nicholas Epley, who led the study.

While group living isn't critical to survival in the modern world, feeling socially connected is. Feeling isolated and lonely is a very painful emotional state for people, Epley said, and can lead to ill health, both physically and mentally.

"Being socially isolated is just not good for you," he said.

When people feel lonely, they may try to rekindle old friendships, seek out new ones or, as Epley's study suggests, they may create social connections by anthropomorphizing nearby gadgets, such as computers or cars, pets, or by believing in supernatural events or religious figures.

Pets and religion

In their study, detailed in the February issue of the journal Psychological Science, Epley's team tried to induce feelings of loneliness in people to see how it affected how they thought of pets and their belief in religious figures.

In one experiment, college undergraduates were shown movie clips and told to try and empathize with the protagonist as best they could, in order to set them in one of three emotional states.

One group was shown a clip from "Cast Away," the movie in which the main character played by Tom Hanks is deserted on a remote island, in order to induce a feeling of isolation. The second group was shown a clip from the crime thriller "The Silence of the Lambs" to promote a sense of fear. A third, control group was shown a clip from the sports comedy feature film "Major League."

All three groups were then asked to describe a pet they owned or knew well and pick three traits from a list that best described them. The list included anthropomorphic traits that related to social connections (thoughtful, sympathetic) and simple behavioral descriptions (aggressive, energetic, fearful).

Participants from the loneliness group were more likely to describe the pet using the anthropomorphic descriptions than those in the fear or control groups.

All three groups were also asked to rate their belief in ghosts, angels, the devil, miracles, curses, and God, and again, those in the loneliness group reported stronger belief in these supernatural agents.

Future predictions

In another part of their study, Epley and his colleagues asked participants from the University of Chicago to fill out a personality questionnaire and were then told that the answers would be fed to a computer which would generate a future-life prediction for them. Half of the participants were read statements implying they would be lonely later in life, while the other half were told they would be socially connected for the rest of their lives.

"We tried to manipulate their loneliness, to make them feel lonely," Epley said.

The participants were then asked to rate their belief in the same supernatural agents in the other study, and those in the "lonely group" reported stronger belief than those in the "connected group." The results were also compared to ratings the participants gave before they got their life predictions, and those who reported a belief in God before and were made to feel lonely reported a stronger belief after the experiment.

"We found that inducing people to feel lonely made them more religious essentially," Epley told LiveScience, though he notes it won't cause any sudden conversions.

Health benefits

Owning pets and religious beliefs and practices are both known to increase a person's sense of well-being, but why exactly that is isn’t well known, Epley said.

Epley and his colleagues plan to probe the issue further to see if anthropomorphizing pets or believing in anthropomorphized supernatural agents is what is responsible for alleviating feelings of loneliness. If it is, it could provide alternate means for people to feel socially connected when connecting to humans isn't an option.

"There are health benefits that come from being connected to other people, and those same benefits seem to come from connection with pets and with religious agents, too," Epley said.

posted on Feb, 15 2008 @ 10:51 AM
Strange article. 'Induced loneliness' by showing people movie clips?

To me, it sounds as if they organised the research to fit their theories.

But we're supposed to be so dumbed-down by this stage, I guess, that the mere mention of the words 'research' combined with 'University of Chicago' .. should convince us this is 'science' ?

When in fact, I suspect the majority who read the article would immediately suggest the researchers (generous use of the term, in my opinon) had selected genuinely lonely people .. self-admitted, proven lonely people ... and questioned them with regard to 'if' they claimed experience of the supernatural and if so, what types of supernatural experience. Make more sense to run your research that way, wouldn't it ?

Many elderly, house-bound people and migrants would qualify as 'lonely'.

Do people within these groups claim greater than average supernatural experiences ?

In my experience, they do not.

The article's 'researcher', Epley isn't worth a dollar in research grants, imo.

Showing movie clips of Hanks in Cast Away to make people feel 'lonely' ... hard to believe the article isn't an early April Fool's joke.

No criticism to the OP, of course. It's an interesting article .. if ridiculous.

Note to 'researcher' Epley ... if you genuinely want to know what breeds interest and belief in the supernatural ... why not ask those who've experienced the supernatural ? Or is that too logical ?

Because it's supernatural experiences that lead to interest and belief. Naturally. Logically.

Someone who's seen a total stranger in their locked home who arrives and disappears without trace .. or who's seen someone whom they know to be dead .. or who's dreamed of an event only for that event to occur later ... or who's known in advance that they would be contacted by someone .. or who begins humming a tune two minutes before the radio plays it ... etc. .. is far more likely to wonder how and why these things occurred than someone who's never experienced such phenomena.

Similarly, someone who's been told of another's supernatural experience may also devote thought and interest in the supernatural. For example, a woman whose husband claims to have seen his dead mother standing near his bed might decide to search for similar stories online.

Has 'researcher' Epley taken the trouble to talk with genuinely lonely people (as opposed to those who'd been subjected to movie clips of Tom Hanks) and/or those who've experienced the supernatural ? Doesn't sound like it. Sounds very much as if Epley just wanted to see his name in print.

If he did take the time to speak with lonely people, he might discover that they spend a lot of time thinking about death and suicide, whilst other lonely people might reveal to him (depending on the amount and quality of whatever empathy Epley was able to convey) that they spend a great deal of time creating a fantasy world and inhabiting that fantasy world.

And if Epley took the time to speak with those with an interest in the supernatural, he may well discover it was one or more supernatural experiences which prompted their interest in the matter .. also that those with interest in and experience of the supernatural very often have far from lonely lives.

As for people anthropomorphizing pets, gadgets, etc. ... it's a very human tendency which is by no means restricted to those who're lonely and those with an interest in and experience of, the supernatural.

I mean, gee, Epley ... you are aware, surely, that scientists give pet names to the computers they've created ... aren't you ? And usually those computers (or rockets, or vehicles, or petri-dishes filled with bacteria .. not to mention galaxies and stars, etc.) are given not only a name ... but a gender ! Oh .. and let's not forget men's habit of giving their penis a name and assumed personality, lol. Or is Epley the only man on the planet who doesn't refer to his penis by name and behave as if it had a mind of its own ?

Maybe watching clips of Tom Hanks makes Epley feel 'lonely' .. but it makes most people laugh. In the same way I can't help laughing at Epley's 'research'.

Edited for spelling

[edit on 15-2-2008 by Dock6]

posted on Feb, 15 2008 @ 11:03 AM
We discussed this around 2 weeks ago. There is a differnce between being alone and being lonely. Some people are just not able to bond with people, what ever the reason.

People need to use there energies in some way, and people alone, may be more tempted to put there energies in to spiritual matters, and that gives them a purpose.

Thats all is really is, it does not mean a married man or women, cannot be interested in spiritual matters, as they clearly do.

[edit on 2/15/2008 by andy1033]

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