PARANORMAL BELIEFS AND BRAIN CHEMISTRY



An opinion poll conducted in Canada in October 2002 discovered that 40 percent of Canadians believe that certain individuals have extrasensory perception that enable them to see into the future. The poll also revealed that 30 percent of the respondents had consulted with a medium, a psychic, or an astrologer.

In the United States, the National Science Foundation's biennial report on the state of science understanding, research, education, and investment conducted in April 2002 found that 70 percent of adults do not understand the scientific process. According to their poll, 60 percent of the respondents believed that there were individuals who possessed psychic powers or extrasensory perception.

Peter Brugger, a neurologist from the University Hospital in Zurich, Switzerland, has suggested that whether or not one believes in the paranormal depends entirely upon one's brain chemistry. As an experiment, Brugger gathered 20 individuals who believed in the paranormal and 20 who said that they were skeptical. The subjects were asked to distinguish real faces from scrambled images flashed briefly on a screen. The second phase consisted of the volunteers forming real words from made-up ones.

In his July 2002 report, Brugger stated that during the first stage of the experiment the individuals who believed in the paranormal were much more likely to see a face or a word when there was none. The skeptics were more likely to miss the real words and faces when they appeared on the screen.

Next, the volunteers were given L-dopa, a drug that increases levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical utilized in the brain's system of reward and motivation and in deciding whether information received is relevant or irrelevant.

Under the influence of L-dopa, both groups had difficulty in distinguishing real faces and words from the scrambled ones—but interestingly, the skeptical individuals developed a greater ability to interpret the jumbled images as the real thing.

Brugger theorized that the improvement in the skeptics' performance suggests that paranormal thoughts are associated with high levels of dopamine in the brain. The dopamine allows people to see patterns and to become less skeptical regarding the perception of relationships between events.


SOURCES:

"Of Soothsayers and Skeptics." The Globe and Mail, October 27, 2002. [Online] http://www.globeandmail.com/servlet/RTGAMArticleHTMLTemplate?tf=tgam/realtime/fu.

Philips, Helen. "Paranormal Beliefs Linked to Brain Chemistry." NewScientist.com, July 24, 2002. [Online] http://www. newscientist.com/news/print.jsp?id=ns99992589.

"Survey Finds Few in U.S. Understand Science." CNN.com, April 30, 2002. [Online] http://cnn.technology.



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