Concept of precognition increases feeling of control

A new study has examined the relationship between belief in precognition and sense of control. They found that belief in psychics, clairvoyance, fortune telling, is one way people may compensate for feeling a lack of control in life. And, that this actually works to provide a greater sense of control.

PLOS ONE: Loss of Control Increases Belief in Precognition and Belief in Precognition Increases Control.

Here is the abstract:

Every year thousands of dollars are spent on psychics who claim to “know” the future. The present research questions why, despite no evidence that humans are able to psychically predict the future, do people persist in holding irrational beliefs about precognition? We argue that believing the future is predictable increases one’s own perceived ability to exert control over future events. As a result, belief in precognition should be particularly strong when people most desire control–that is, when they lack it. In Experiment 1 (N = 87), people who were experimentally induced to feel low in control reported greater belief in precognition than people who felt high in control. Experiment 2 (N = 53) investigated whether belief in precognition increases perceived control. Consistent with this notion, providing scientific evidence that precognition is possible increased feelings of control relative to providing scientific evidence that precognition was not possible. Experiment 3 (N = 132) revealed that when control is low, believing in precognition helps people to feel in control once more. Prediction therefore acts as a compensatory mechanism in times of low control. The present research provides new insights into the psychological functions of seemingly irrational beliefs, like belief in psychic abilities.

This is not a new idea. The piece notes that belief in superstitions is known as a way to feel in control in an uncontrolled situation. The experiments done in this piece showed that just by telling someone that precognition exists increases their sense of control. That’s a bit odd. I would think it would depend on conditions very specific to the situation. Another experiment provided evidence that when control was missing, belief in precognition increased the perception of control. The results are not overwhelming but significant.

Belief in these concepts is a way to cope with life’s uncertainty. I would also assume that the same would apply to people who pray to religious entities or subscribe to astrology (which is not mentioned in this piece). It’s a source of comfort as well as control that you KNOW and can predict, thus, prepare.

The study is on PLOS One and so is available in its entirety here.

How do we deal with this? It’s an interesting thought. What if people are given other control mechanisms – perhaps they will be less reliant on false claims of an ability to predict the future. Education is a key. Education can lead people out of poverty, empower women, promote equality and reduce dependence on fundamentalist religious ideas. In wealthier countries, where psychics are employed frequently in the role of “life coaches” who just tell people what they want to hear, there seems to be a niche to fill for NON-supernatural guidance. People can learn how to cope with life’s uncertainties through many strategies. It would be great if they rejected the silly psychic notions.

  8 comments for “Concept of precognition increases feeling of control

  1. Chris Howard
    August 8, 2013 at 1:57 PM

    Psychologically this is dilusion, and it has the very real possibility of creating some seriously bad situations. I’ve seen it in the mental health facilities that I’ve worked.

    The best thing that you can do for people is teach them how to recognize the things in life that they actually have control over, verses those things that they cannot control.

    This usually translates into the individual leading a life from within an internal nexus of control, rather than being at the mercy of an external nexus.

    Most of the time we only have control over ourselves, but we buy into magical thinking. We usually mistake stacking the odds in our favor, by our various actions, beliefs, and choices; such as going to college to get a degree so that we increase the odds of a better paying job, with a guarantee (college degree always equals better paying job, or if this then this) this type of thinking tends to reduce stress, but it can also lead to a type of cognitive blindness, wherein the individual can’t envision other possible scenarios and is therefore unprepared when they do all the things in life that they were supposed to do, and it didn’t pan out.

    So believing in this stuff has a greater chance of creating disappointment, and depression in the delusional individual, but hey, at least they have a great sense of fallacious agency.

  2. August 9, 2013 at 3:08 AM

    You missed out the word apparent, in reality none of us have any control over our lives
    “Where there are two desires in a man’s heart, he has no choice between the two, but must obey the strongest, there being no such thing as free will in the composition of any human being that ever lived.” Mark Twain (1835-1910).

  3. Chris Howard
    August 9, 2013 at 8:26 PM

    Not true. One has limited control, that’s different from saying absolute control. Ones choices are a form of control, beyond that though, you’re right we have very limited control.

  4. Chris Howard
    August 9, 2013 at 8:30 PM

    I think people confuse control of outcome with having control over their emotions and choices.

  5. August 10, 2013 at 3:34 AM

    Can you explain where this control comes from. Everything that happens to us, including our thoughts, are the result of previous causes, there is no choice it is only apparent.

  6. August 10, 2013 at 4:01 AM

    “Our actions should be based on the ever-present awareness that human beings in their thinking, feeling, and acting are not free, but are just as causally bound as the stars in their motion. I do not believe in free will. This awareness keeps me from taking myself and my fellow men too seriously as acting and deciding individuals, and from losing my temper.”

  7. August 10, 2013 at 4:04 AM

    @ Chris,The above quotes are from A E

  8. August 10, 2013 at 7:01 AM

    For some reason this blog will not accept A E’s name in full. He is, of course, the gentleman who won the Nobel prize for Physics in 1921 and his name is often synonymous with genius.

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