Paranormal Beliefs Frightened by Science and COVID-19 Vaccine, WVU Sociologists Suggest | WVU today

The largest supermoon of 2022, identified as the Buck Moon, rises above the mountain line in Morgantown, July 13. A new WVU poll shows that people who believe in witchcraft, telekinesis and other forms of the paranormal are more likely to distrust science and vaccines.
(WVU Photo/David Malecki)

The number 13, telekinesis and witchcraft all play a role in a person’s distrust of science and vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a study by West Virginia University sociologists.

Previous research has shown that people with conservative religious beliefs are more likely to distrust the COVID-19 vaccine, but most studies look only at mainstream or institutionalized forms of religion. WVU researchers Katie Corcoran, Chris Scheitel and Bernard DiGregorio were curious whether paranormal beliefs — belief in astrology and spirits, for example — would be associated with a similar lack of confidence.

“We were interested in looking at how religion, science, and what we call the ‘enchanted worldview’ relate to each other,” said Corcoran, associate professor of sociology in Eberly College of Arts and Sciencesexplaining that the enchanted worldview includes traditional religious beliefs, such as beliefs in angels, God, demons, and spirits.

“It also includes the belief that crystals can heal, the belief in astrology, and the belief that the world is enchanted, that there is more to the empirical world, beyond simple religion. So, this particular project looks at what we call paranormal beliefs, which covers several different areas.

Paranormal beliefs differ from mainstream religion and are inconsistent with current science. These include but are not limited to beliefs in good and bad luck, parapsychology (eg mind reading or telekinesis) and spiritualism (eg astrology and witchcraft).

° Сorcoran and Scheitle conducted a study to understand how these beliefs relate to confidence in the COVID vaccine.

“We found that people who believe in the paranormal are less likely to get a COVID-19 vaccine and have less confidence in vaccines in general,” she said. “We also found that part of the reason why people who believe in the paranormal are less likely to trust vaccines and get vaccinated is because they are more likely to believe in conspiracies and distrust science.”

The findings are published in Sociology of Religion.

Corcoran and Scheitl predicted the negative relationship between belief and vaccine hesitancy based on previous data.

We know that people with religious beliefs, particularly conservative religious beliefs, are less likely to trust vaccines and less likely to get them,” she said. “And we hypothesized that paranormal beliefs might have a similar relationship because part of their definition is that they are contrary to current science.”

However, they were surprised by how strong the negative relationship was between this distrust and paranormal beliefs. While political conservatism was the strongest predictor of vaccine hesitancy, belief in the paranormal was more likely than religion and several other sociodemographic variables to produce the same feelings.

We didn’t expect it to matter so much,” she said.

Corcoran and Scheitle received $167,797 from Rice University and UC San Diego, provided by the Templeton Religion Trust through The Issachar Fund, to support their research in this project, Science and Religion: Identity and Belief Formation. The initiative funds sociological research that examines the relationship of identities and beliefs to science and religion.

TThe results of their study may help public health departments better combat vaccine hesitancy by learning the reasons behind it. During the pandemic, public health departments worked with religious congregations and their pastors to educate people about the vaccine. Those who believe in the paranormal, however, are less visible and less likely to attend services. So it becomes more difficult to reach.

“They are not as institutionalized as people who have religious beliefs and are part of congregations,” she said. “Because congregations are organizations, they are easier to reach. With paranormal beliefs, this is less institutionalized.

To reach the latter group, Corcoran suggested that public health departments look for forms of institutionalization among those who believe in the paranormal. These may include conferences and seminars, as well as companies they visit.

° Сorcoran said the first step would be interviews. This would allow researchers and public health officials to gain a clearer picture of their concerns and, in turn, explore where this vaccine hesitancy stems from.

“Now that we know it’s linked to mistrust of science and conspiracy beliefs, we can ask where it comes from,” she said. “What is the reason? And once we understand the motivations, then we can begin a more targeted outreach.”

Citation: Paranormal Beliefs, Vaccine Confidence, and Acceptance of the COVID-19 Vaccine



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