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A SURVEY OF UFOLOGISTS AND THEIR BELIEFS IN UNEXPLAINED PHENOMENA

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  • Royce Holleman
    A SURVEY OF UFOLOGISTS AND THEIR BELIEFS IN UNEXPLAINED PHENOMENA by Donald A. Johnson, Ph.D. P.O. Box 161, Kirkland, WA 98083-0161 MUFON Consultant in
    Message 1 of 2 , Feb 8, 2008
      A SURVEY OF UFOLOGISTS AND THEIR BELIEFS IN UNEXPLAINED PHENOMENA

      by Donald A. Johnson, Ph.D.
      P.O. Box 161, Kirkland, WA 98083-0161
      MUFON Consultant in Research Psychology

      In order to learn what beliefs UFOlogists hold about
      paranormal phenomena--particularly parapsychological phenomena--and
      to determine whether a relationship exists between witnessing UFO
      events and belief in psychic abilities, I conducted a small survey
      of attendees of the 1983 MUFON Symposium, held in Pasadena,
      California. This report presents the results from that survey.

      There were three things I hoped to accomplish by conducting
      this survey. The first goal was mainly descriptive: to determine
      what pattern of beliefs exists among UFOlogists in the various
      paranomal phenomena listed in the questionnaire. I thought it
      would be interesting to find out to what degree these beliefs
      differ from those held by the general public. The comparison data
      was supplied by a survey of 1553 adults conducted by the Gallup
      Poll in February 1978. The results were reported by Jeff Sobal and
      Charles Emmons in the Zetetic Scholar (1).

      The second purpose of the survey was to discover if UFO
      witnesses differ significantly from non-witnesses in their beliefs
      in unexplained phenomena, and especially to determine whether UFO
      witnesses have higher rates of belief in unexplained phenomena.
      Such a finding, if replicated, might lead to the conclusion that
      UFO witnesses, as a group, have a lower threshold of acceptance for
      phenomena not recognized or explained by current scientific
      paradigms. It could suggest that they are less skeptical and more
      credulous than non-witnesses. Evidence of this kind would tend to
      cast doubt on the validity of at least some UFO eyewitness
      testimony, because the ability of these observers to distinguish
      inexplicable phenomena from everyday events would be called into
      question.

      The third objective was to test the hypothesis that a
      relationship exists between belief in ones own psychic abilities
      and the witnessing of UFO phenomena. A correspondence between
      belief in psychic ability and witnessing UFO events has been
      hypothesized by a number of authors, and some tentative evidence to
      support such a relationship was presented by Benton Jamison (2) at
      the 1976 C.U.F.O.S. Conference. This relationship, should it
      exist, could have a variety of causes. It could be that greater
      open-mindedness and perceptiveness on the part of psychic UFO
      witnesses allows them to witness possibly paranormal aspects of the
      UFO phenomena, it might be that psychic individuals are selected to
      witness UFO events, or it could be that so-called "psychics" are
      simply more gullible and more easily fooled by misperceived stimuli.

      The survey was designed to elicit beliefs about UFOs and other
      unexplained phenonena. Two hundred questionnaires were distributed
      at the conference, and 70 completed questionnaires were returned,
      representing a 35% response rate. However, some of the
      participants were allowed to take and keep an extra copy of the
      questionnaire, so the actual participation rate may be higher.
      Since this is a "convenience" sample and not a true probability
      sample of UFO researchers, inferences about the generalizability of
      the results are generally not warranted. However, it is my opinion
      that the answers provided by the sample probably reflect the views
      of a sub-population of those individuals indentified as
      "UFOlogists". This group consists of those people with enough
      interest in the UFO phenomenon to attend a conference, and with
      sufficient interest in the general purposes of this survey to
      participate.

      The questionnaire consisted of two brief paragraphs describing
      the study, three questions on respondent's beliefs regarding the
      UFO phenomenon, twelve questions on other unexplained phenomena
      drawn from the Gallup Poll survey, four questions on belief in
      one's own psychic abilities, and two questions on how often the
      respondent had witnessed a UFO. All questionnaires were completed
      anonymously. In addition to completing the above mentioned items,
      participants were asked to supply information about their age, sex,
      race, education, and marital status.

      A few survey participants objected to using the term "belief"
      to define their opinions about the existence of paranormal
      phenomena. While I readily concede that the word is not the best
      choice of terms because of the religious connotation associated
      with its use, it was necessary to retain the terminology used by
      the Gallup Poll to insure comparability with their results. I
      don't believe that it interfered with anyone's interpretation of
      the meaning of the questions.

      Results. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents were male, and
      the sample was nearly equally split between married (49%) and
      unmarried (51%) individuals. Ninety-one percent listed their
      racial or ethnic group as White, while 3% were Hispanic, 3% Black,
      and 3% Asian. Two of the Black respondents also indicated they
      were part American Indian. Only two of the respondents were
      younger than thirty. In general, survey participants tended to be
      middle-aged and very well educated, as Table 1 shows. Almost half
      (46%) of the respondents had witnessed at least one UFO, and
      one-third reported having seen UFOs on more than one occasion.

      Table 1

      Age and Education of MUFON Respondents

      Age Category Percent

      18-29 years 3
      30-49 years 24
      40-49 years 30
      50-64 years 28
      65 years and over 15
      ---
      100%

      Educational level

      11 years or less 0
      12 years 8
      13-15 years 25
      16 years 28
      17 years or more 39
      ---
      100%

      If we assume that the sample of UFOlogists is truely
      representative of a larger population, than we can disregard for
      the moment the inappropriateness of applying statistical tests to
      the results of a "convenience" sample. Concerning the first goal
      of the survey, it turns out that UFOlogists can be categorized as
      similar to the general public in their beliefs in paranormal
      activity, except that they are significantly less likely to believe
      in angels, devils, and astrology, and significantly more likely to
      believe in evidence for psychic phenomena and the existence of
      valid cryptozoologic claims. Table 2 presents the results of the
      beliefs questions.

      Table 2

      Belief in UFOs and Other Unexplained Phenomena by MUFON Sample

      Percent of Respondents
      No ? Yes
      UFOs are real rather than imaginary 1 3 96 100%
      UFOs are intelligently controlled
      devices 6 8 86 100%
      UFOs are extraterrestrial visitors 4 26 70 100%

      Do you believe in:
      Angels 48 24 26 100%
      Devils 59 28 13 100%
      Life After Death 18 19 63 100%
      Loch Ness Monster 13 46 41 100%
      Bigfoot (Sasquatch) 10 52 38 100%
      Witches 62 23 15 100%
      Ghosts 38 31 31 100%
      Astrology 63 21 16 100%
      ESP 9 23 68 100%
      Precognition 11 25 64 100%
      Deja vu 14 41 45 100%
      Clairvoyance 16 25 58 100%

      In general, the Gallup Poll results reveal that the more
      education one has the more likely one is to believe in psychic
      abilities. When compared to only those with college training, the
      differences in belief in psychic phenomena become less noticeable.
      Belief in precognition and clairvoyance are still significantly
      more common among UFOlogists than among the college trained general
      public, but no significant differences remain for "ESP" or "deja
      vu".

      The results on whether UFOlogists who report having seen a UFO
      differ in their beliefs from UFOlogists who have never had a UFO
      sighting are not definitive. On the one hand, there was a trend
      among some who have witnessed the UFO phenomenon to be less
      critical of other unexplained phenomenon. However, the sample size
      is not sufficient to make any conclusions about that trend. The
      data are reported in Table 3. The data are presented in two ways:
      with the percentage who had responded "yes" to each of the "do you
      believe in" statements; and as an average of the numeric values of
      the responses, with "no" coded 1, "?" coded 2, and "yes" coded 3.
      There were 31 who reported having had at least one UFO sighting and
      36 who reported not having had any sightings.

      Table 3

      Comparison of the beliefs of UFO witnesses and non-witnesses

      Witnesses Non-witnesses
      % Yes Ave. % Yes Ave.
      UFOs are real rather than imaginary 100 3.00 92 2.89
      UFOs are intelligently controlled
      devices 94 2.90 78 2.69
      UFOs are extraterrestrial visitors 77 2.77 61 2.52

      Do you believe in:
      Angels 43 2.17 17 1.56
      Devils 21 1.75 8 1.42
      Life After Death 76 2.66 51 2.29
      Loch Ness Monster 48 2.41 36 2.19
      Bigfoot 50 2.43 31 2.19
      Witches 24 1.76 8 1.36
      Ghosts 45 2.17 22 1.81
      Astrology 21 1.66 14 1.47
      ESP 73 2.63 64 2.56
      Precognition 69 2.58 63 2.54
      Deja vu 54 2.39 40 2.29
      Clairvoyance 68 2.54 53 2.39

      The differences between the two groups were greatest for
      beliefs in religious phenomena such as angels and life after death,
      and for the "Halloween" associated phenomena of ghosts and
      witches. While these differences prove nothing, they do suggest
      that the non-witnesses show more skepticism in general, which might
      lead one to infer that they also have a higher threshold for
      rejecting unusual phenomena they personally observe as lacking a
      mundane explanation. Conversely, it may also be seen as evidence
      suggesting that at least some UFO witnesses are less skeptical and
      more credulous that non-witnesses. In one respect, "seeing" does
      seem to equate with "believing": respondents who had witnessed
      UFOs more than once were significantly more likely to say that UFOs
      are extraterrestrial visitors (87%) than those who had never
      witnessed the UFO phenomenon or had witnessed it only once (59%).

      There were no significant differences between a belief in ones
      own psychic abilities and whether or not one has personally
      witnessed the UFO phenomenon. Table 4 displays these results for
      both witnesses and non-witnesses. However, there were significant
      differences for the number of UFO encounters for both belief in
      pre-cognition ability and psychokinesis ability. Those who
      responded yes to the pre-cognition question reported an average of
      2.9 UFO sightings compared to an average of one UFO sighting for
      the remainder of the sample. Those who felt they had an ability
      with psychokinesis reportedly had seen UFOs an average of 3.33
      times, compared to 1.1 times for those who said they did not have
      the ability or weren't sure.



      Table 4

      Comparison of the psychic ability beliefs of
      UFO witnesses and non-witnesses

      Witnesses Non-witnesses
      % Yes Ave. % Yes Ave.
      Believe have some ability to gain
      extra-sensory perceptions (ESP) of
      thoughts and feelings of other
      people (telepathy)? 48 2.32 53 2.25

      Believe have some ability to gain
      impressions of events or objects
      which are outside usual environ-
      ment (clairvoyance)? 45 2.10 36 1.92

      Believe have some ability to gain
      impressions of future events
      (pre-cognition)? 42 2.16 33 1.86

      Believe have some ability to
      influence the physical environment
      around you (psychokinesis or "mind
      over matter")? 27 1.76 19 1.64


      This last finding is interesting, but it is certainly
      preliminary and open to a wide variety of interpretations. As I
      mentioned previously, "psychics" may simply be more gullible and
      more apt to misinterpret ambiguous stimuli, or it might be that
      they are actually more perceptive and that this perceptiveness has
      some relation to the UFO phenomenon. Before we lend further
      credence to this latter interpretation it would behoove us to test
      these individuals under controlled, laboratory conditions; to
      determine whether these abilities can indeed be proven to exist.

      References

      (1) Sobal, Jeff and Charles F. Emmons (1982). Patterns of belief
      in religious, psychic and other paranormal phenomena,
      Zetetic Scholar, no. 9 (March 1982), pp. 7-17.

      (2) Jamison, Benton (1976). Some proposals: Modest, immodest,
      and maybe fundable. In Nancy Dourbos (ed.), Proceedings
      of the 1976 CUFOS Conference. Evanston, IL: Center for
      UFO Studies, pp. 119-132.

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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