The largest supermoon appearance of 2022, identified as the Buck Moon, rises above the mountain line in Morgantown on July 13. New sociological research from the WVU shows that people who believe in witchcraft, telekinesis and other forms of paranormal phenomena are more likely to distrust science and vaccines. (WVU photo / David Malecki)
The number 13, telekinesis and witchcraft play a role in a person’s distrust of science and vaccines, including the COVID-19 injection, according to research by sociologists at West Virginia University.
Previous research has shown that people with conservative religious beliefs are more likely to lack confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine, but most studies have only observed mainstream or institutionalized religious forms. WVU researchers Katie Corcoran, Chris Scheitle and Bernard DiGregorio wondered if psychic beliefs — beliefs in astrology and ghosts, for example — would be associated with a similar lack of confidence.
“We were interested in how religion, science, and what we call ‘the enchanted worldview’ relate to each other,” said Corcoran, an associate professor of sociology in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, explaining that the enchanted worldview embraces traditional religious beliefs, such as belief 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 bewitched, that there is more than the empirical world, more than just religion. So this particular project is looking at what we call psychic beliefs, crossing different areas.”
Paranormal beliefs are distinct from mainstream religion and are inconsistent with current science. They include, but are not limited to, belief in good and bad luck, parapsychology (eg, mind reading or telekinesis), and spiritualism (eg, astrology and witchcraft).
Corcoran 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 the COVID-19 vaccine and have less faith in vaccines in general,” she said. “We also found that part of the reason 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 mistrust science.”
The findings were published in Sociology of Religion.
Corcoran and Scheitle had anticipated the negative relationship between vaccine faith and hesitation based on previous data.
“We know that people with religious beliefs, especially conservative religious beliefs, are less likely to trust vaccines and are less likely to get them,” she said. “And we assumed that psychic beliefs might have a similar relationship because part of their definition is that they don’t conform to current science.”
However, they were surprised by how strong the negative association was between that mistrust and paranormal beliefs. While political conservatism is the strongest indicator of vaccine hesitancy, belief in the paranormal over religion and several other sociodemographic variables were more likely to evoke similar feelings.
“We didn’t expect it to matter so much,” she said.
Corcoran and Scheitle received $167,797 from Rice University and the University of California, San Diego, provided by the Templeton Religion Trust through The Issachar Fund, to support their research in this “Science and Religion: Identity and Belief Formation” project. The initiative funds sociological research that examines how identities and beliefs relate to science and religion.
The results of their research could help public health departments better combat vaccine hesitation by learning the reasons behind it. During the pandemic, public health departments worked with religious congregations and their predecessors to educate people about the vaccine. However, those who believe in the paranormal are less visible and come to the services less often. So the range becomes more difficult.
“They are not as institutionalized as people with religious beliefs and being part of congregations,” she said. “Because municipalities are organisations, they are easier to reach. With paranormal beliefs, it is less institutionalized.”
To reach the latter group, Corcoran suggested that public health departments might want to look for forms of institutionalization among those who believe in the paranormal. These can be conferences and workshops, but also companies that they visit regularly.
Corcoran said the first step would be interviews. This would allow researchers and public health officials to get a clearer picture of their concerns and, in turn, explore where this vaccine hesitation comes from.
“Now that we know it’s linked to distrust of science and conspiratorial beliefs, we may wonder where it came from,” she said. “What’s the reasoning? And once we know the reasoning, we can get to work in a more focused way.”
Visa: Psychic Beliefs, Vaccine Confidence, and COVID-19 Vaccine Inclusion
MEDIA CONTACT: Jake StumpDirectorWVU Research Communications304-293-5507; email@example.com
Call 1-855-WVU-NEWS for the latest news and information about West Virginia University from WVUToday.
Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.