role in the different pattern of ﬁndings uncovered in the two surveys. For example, it
could be that the results reported in this study supporting the resonance hypothesis
are more likely to hold when a measure of ﬁctional programming is used. For
respondents who reported a prior experience with the paranormal, ﬁctional pro-
grams may constitute the “double-dose” of the paranormal message referred to in
the resonance hypothesis. For those with no prior paranormal experience, viewing
ﬁctional paranormal programming does not constitute a double-dose, thus reducing
the likelihood of a relationship between viewing these programs and belief in the
paranormal. In the study by Sparks et al. (1997) that relied upon a measure of
paranormal programs that was weighted toward reality programs, viewing of
these programs was signiﬁcantly related to paranormal beliefs for viewers with
no prior experience with the paranormal. It could be that for these viewers, the
reality of the depictions tends to be persuasive because the viewers have no
personal experience to counter the “reality” depicted. The fact that Sparks et al.
(1997) failed to conﬁrm the resonance hypothesis for those with prior experience
with the paranormal may suggest that when reality programs are involved, a
different process takes place that overrides the cultivation process of resonance.
Perhaps for these viewers, the apparent reality of the depictions triggers a
cognitive process that involves contrast and comparison between the “real”
experiences depicted in the media and the viewers’ own private experiences.
Perhaps these processes lead viewers to note the dissimilarities between the
“real” experiences depicted in the media and personal experiences. In such
cases, instead of a “double-dose” of the same message, viewers may process the
media message as running counter to their own experiences.
If the above analysis has any merit, it suggests that future attention should be
directed toward studying the role of ﬁction and reality programs in the cultiva-
tion of paranormal beliefs. It is interesting to note that Sparks et al. (1997)
underscored the need to examine perceived realism of paranormal depictions as
an important variable in understanding the impact of paranormal TV on
paranormal beliefs. We believe it is important to re-emphasize this point.
Following Potter’s work on perceived reality (Potter, 1986, 1988), we expect that
media impact in this domain might be dependent on such reality judgments. It is
also the case that paranormal programming probably produces a much wider
range of reality judgments than other types of programming (e.g., news program-
ming). Therefore, it appears critical to examine this variable in future studies. Of
course, this analysis is only one possible explanation for the conﬂicting results
between the two studies, but it would appear to be a plausible explanation that is
worth exploring in future investigations.
RQ2, which asked about the impact of demographic variables on paranormal
beliefs, was evaluated in the regression equations. The ﬁndings that emerged in the
regression equations were informative with respect to these variables. There was no
evidence that age, income, weekly attendance at a religious service, or general
intensity of religious belief were related to paranormal beliefs. This might not be
surprising with respect to age or income, but the skeptical community has often
associated religious belief with belief in the paranormal. However, our ﬁnding that
neither of the measures pertaining to religion were predictors of paranormal belief is
consistent with the ﬁndings of several other studies (Duncan, Donnelly, & Nichol-
to be accumulating to suggest that the relationship between religious belief and
paranormal belief may not be very strong. Undoubtedly, there are conceptual
grounds for distinguishing between these two domains.
There was some evidence for a weak relationship between biological sex and
belief in the paranormal; females showed a slight tendency to endorse paranor-
mal beliefs more than males. There is some precedent in the literature for this
ﬁnding (Wolfradt, 1997), but in general, the differences between males and
females in this realm appear to be small. The largest relationship between
paranormal beliefs and a demographic variable was found for level of education.
As one might expect, individuals with higher levels of education were less likely
to endorse paranormal beliefs. This ﬁnding appears to be consistent with the
notion that education encourages the development of critical thinking skills that
result in closer scrutiny and ultimate rejection of many paranormal claims.
Consistent with this idea, Gray and Mill (1990) found a signiﬁcant relationship
between the application of critical thinking skills and rejection of paranormal
The data accumulating on the relationship between media exposure and beliefs in
the paranormal suggest that there may be an important media effect in this realm
that has received relatively little attention from scholars of mass communication. It is
important for future studies to replicate the ﬁndings that have been reported thus far
and, in the case of the resonance hypothesis, seek to untangle the inconsistent results
that have emerged to date. Like the survey reported by Sparks et al. (1997), this study
has the strength of using a random sampling procedure of an entire city. This
method is considerably stronger than one that appears frequently in the literature—
convenience samples of college students. The use of random samples of larger
populations enables some meaningful generalization of research ﬁndings. Labora-
tory experiments and surveys of this type should continue to be useful tools for
advancing our knowledge about the media’s role in beliefs about paranormal
Research on the inﬂuence of the media on beliefs in the paranormal is still in
its infancy. The studies to date, including this one, demonstrate that this area of
inquiry may hold considerable promise in advancing our understanding about
media effects. One glaring hole in the current literature is the lack of any
systematic content analysis of media content that focuses on paranormal themes.
Clearly, this sort of study is overdue and stands to inform us about the prevalence
of these themes in a systematic way. Ultimately, we believe that research on the
media and paranormal beliefs stands to offer new insights about media effects as
well as the way individuals form their basic belief systems. There may also be
implications for the design of educational curricula on critical thinking and the
media. In the ﬁnal analysis, we believe that paranormal beliefs and the media’s
role in cultivating or discouraging them is a critical topic for mass communica-
tion scholars to understand well. Society is shaped by what people believe. If the
media play a central role in encouraging people to adopt beliefs about reality that
are unsubstantiated, there may well be widespread implications for future society
that are incalculable at the present time.
Robert Kiviat is a Hollywood producer who has worked on a number of programs that deal with the
series of programs, Kiviat shows footage of an alien autopsy that supposedly originated from the now infamous
Roswell incident in the late 1940s. Over the series of programs, it becomes clear that there is good reason to
conclude that the ﬁlm is a hoax. Kiviat takes primary responsibility for investigating the ﬁlm’s origins and for
tracking down the evidence that led to the verdict that the ﬁlm was a hoax.
The sample was random with respect to the numbers dialed, but not with respect to the people living in the
presented to the person who answered the phone. Persons under 18-years old were not used due to the
additional contingencies of parental permission that would have been involved in order to satisfy guidelines for
ethical treatment of human subjects. In the case of 5 respondents, data on sex was not collected. The city used
for the sample was the same one used in the study by Sparks et al. (1997). It has a population of about 50,000
with a very small minority population (i.e., less than 2% of any particular minority group).
Although “uncertainty,” “belief,” and “disbelief” appear to be categories on a nominal scale, they clearly
is no different than any 5-point scale that calls for an indication of agreement with an attitude statement.
Although strictly qualifying as only ordinal measures, such scales are commonly treated as if they are interval.
A long history of statistical testing reveals that in most cases, treating ordinal level data as if it were interval level
causes few differences of consequence in the data analysis.
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Received: July 19, 2000
Accepted: December 20, 2000