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.
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.