Gene Expression

New Agers are more delusional

Relative to atheists, and conventional religious people (though conventional religious people are more delusional than atheists). Tom Rees has more:

Overall, the New Agers were more delusional than the Religious. That was particularly true for belief in witchcraft and telepathy (not shown in the graph). But the New Agers were also more likely to think that people are not what they seem, that they are being persecuted, that electrical devices like computers can control their thoughts, and that their thoughts are ‘echoed back’.

On a mass scale people with orthodox beliefs who are affiliated with institutional religions have more impact because they can organize. But, on a personal level New Agers are often harder to deal with because the weirdness of their beliefs is often hard to anticipate, and they can take a scattershot approach to irrationality, barraging you with a sequence of unrelated bizarre intuitions and claims (in contrast, orthodox religious people have a more stable script of talking points).

The original paper is Is the New Age phenomenon connected to delusion-like experiences? Analysis of survey data from Australia.

Comments

  1. #1 Joshua Zelinsky
    October 19, 2009

    There may be an interesting correlation v. causation issue going on here. Are delusional people more likely to be drawn to the New Age movement because it is more accepting of personal delusions or does presence in the movement make people more likely to have delusional beliefs?

  2. #2 miko
    October 19, 2009

    Why is having a higher number of delusions “more delusional?” I would say that belief in angels or heaven or that the earth is 3000 years old is far more delusional than, say, alien abduction, because at least alien abduction is logically possible. That said, New Agers are a lot more annoying than most religious people.

  3. #3 TGGP
    October 19, 2009

    Cracked recently noted that people who join cults are just as intelligent as the average joe, if not more so. It occurred to me that the kind of person who joins a cult, or converts away from a mainstream religion they were raised in, is going to be a somewhat atypical character, perhaps more intelligent but also more eccentric. So here I think the religious give normal answers because they are normal people.

  4. #4 bioIgnoramus
    October 19, 2009

    Hands up everyone who had not intuited this truth. It’s damn near a tautology.

  5. #5 bob
    October 19, 2009

    I briefly dated a girl who combined several interesting variants of crazy. She was early 20s and amazingly hot and pretty bright, but was a born-again virgin. (I learned later that she’d been a slutty pot-head in college and had recently gone straight when I met her. But she seemed sweet, if quirky, at first.)

    The born-again virgin thing was odd, but I don’t rush these things anyway and was happy to date her awhile and see if she was worth the wait.

    By the third date she casually said she thought the moon-landings were fake. The cool, if insane, part was she believed we had landed on the moon, but not until the 1980s and the early footage had all been faked. I never learned why she believed that.

    The 4th, and last, date involved her trying to get me to confront her neighbor who she believed was trying to kill her dog in the middle of the night.

    Now, my crazy-ometer had been going off from the beginning, but … well she was really, really hot and extremely … sensual. She was clearly not wired to be a born-again virgin. She was more like an alcoholic trying not to drink but who still likes hanging out at bars. She was also clearly not wired, unfortunately, to be especially sane. I bolted when her craziness went past quirky and into paranoia about real people.

    Oh, she attended some weird super-charismatic church, perhaps not new-age, but definitely not a mainstream church. She wanted me to attend with her, but I bolted before that. Beautiful, but crazy.

  6. #6 Eric Johnson
    October 19, 2009

    > I would say that belief in angels or heaven or that the earth is 3000 years old is far more delusional than, say, alien abduction, because at least alien abduction is logically possible.

    Actually, angels and heaven are logically possible. However, aliens are precedented in addition to being logically possible – the precedent being us, since aliens simply means intelligent life other than us.

  7. #7 asdf
    October 19, 2009

    But electrical devices can control thoughts. Aka Brain Machine interface.

  8. #8 OneSTDV
    October 20, 2009

    “But electrical devices can control thoughts. Aka Brain Machine interface. ”

    I’ve given this argument as evidence for “spiritual experiences” being merely manifestations of brain processes and not actual external realities. The response: The Brain Machine is actually a conduit into the spirit world.

  9. #9 Robert Foster
    October 20, 2009

    Do I detect an in-built bias here? The excerpt that I read online has this interesting bit, “Belief in a spiritual or higher power other than God . . .” So, a belief in god is not considered a sign of delusion, whereas beliefs in any other kind of higher spiritual power is by definition delusional and warrants further study? And, perhaps, opprobrium? I’m not going to defend all so-called New-Age beliefs (does Mormonism apply?), but in my experience they tend to be mostly harmless, disaffected types who have lost faith in most of our society’s institutions and are simply casting a wide net for a substitute to what’s been handed them. And, to be honest, who can blame them?

  10. #10 miko
    October 20, 2009

    >Actually, angels and heaven are logically possible.

    Depends on what you mean, I guess…maybe I meant they aren’t physically or naturally possible, because by definition they are magical.

  11. #11 Jose
    October 20, 2009

    TGGP- It occurred to me that the kind of person who joins a cult, or converts away from a mainstream religion they were raised in, is going to be a somewhat atypical character, perhaps more intelligent but also more eccentric.

    There’s another possible explanation this. Cults self select for healthy and productive members. The entire point of a cult is to exploit people who can contribute money and/or useful labour. Cults aren’t interested in recruiting members that they’ll have to support, in other words they’re usually are people they won’t recruit.

    On an unrelated note in my personal experience New Agers are more delusional than religious people. They’re more likely to believe in lots of crazy things (usually several conspiracy theories to boot) and they have a healthy distrust of reason. Most cults nowadays seem to seek out recruits from the New Age/Alternative Medicine (Homeopathy seems to be the big draw these days) crowd than from extreme forms of exsisting religions.

  12. #12 John Emerson
    October 20, 2009

    People are not what they seem.

    I agree with several interpretations if that sentence. I suppose that in context it means people who believe in shape-shifters, demon possession, and aliens walking among us, but a lot of people are not what they seem to be.

  13. #13 Thursday
    October 21, 2009

    1. As always, where are the controls for IQ?

    2. The Audacious Epigone has shown that New Age girls are more likely to cheat.
    http://anepigone.blogspot.com/2009/02/what-types-of-people-cheat-on-their.html

    3. My own personal experience says to stay the hell away from most girls who go to Pentecostal/Charismatic churches. They seem to have a lot more crazy chicks than other religious organizations.

  14. #14 razib
    October 21, 2009

    guys, tom at the linked post elaborates on the lack of controls.

  15. #15 Eric Johnson
    October 21, 2009

    > I’ve given this argument as evidence for “spiritual experiences” being merely manifestations of brain processes and not actual external realities. The response: The Brain Machine is actually a conduit into the spirit world.

    I suspect the logic of many people with mystical experiences, not necessarily explicit, is that fundamentally you credit scientific naturalism (and brain science) because you are “impressed” by its coherence. They were more impressed by their mystical experiences which may have involved a degree of subject-object breakdown (ie, the self is everything and nothing). They may also think that the subject-object dichotomy, which they feel they have seen beyond, is a required basis for your naturalism.

    I’m not saying any of this is necessarily convincing.

  16. #16 Caledonian
    October 21, 2009

    But the New Agers were also more likely to think that people are not what they seem

    People usually aren’t.

    that they are being persecuted

    Almost everyone not part of the dominant mainstream believes they’re being persecuted.

    that electrical devices like computers can control their thoughts

    Um… they normally introduce ideas and thoughts. That’s part of what they’re for.

    I think we need more than just better controls – we need a rigorous and explicit definition of what a ‘delusional’ belief is.

  17. #17 sg
    October 21, 2009

    I have a smart friend who was in a cult and left and went back to mainstream religion. She is however still into fringe ideas of all sorts. Someone called it “openness” to new ideas when smart people fall for goofy stuff. She is sweet and harmless. No kids, mercifully. Although if she had kids she might tone down on the weird ideas, because many people become more traditional when they have kids. Having weird parents is hard on kids and even people who are “open” to ideas don’t want to hurt their kids.

  18. #18 Greg
    October 24, 2009

    All to often we all tend to talk about things we do not know very much about. We just want our opinions to be heard even if they are only our opinions. We as people, and the scientist among us are learning new things about the world we live in, and the human body everyday. With these discoveries that we are learning, and in some cases stumbling across out of just plan luck we are constantly rewriting our history, and science books all the time. Our kids are being taught from these new idea’s, and discoveries. With every generation our children keep getting smarter, I know some would argue, but as a whole it is true. Even religion is being updated with discoveries such as the dead see scrolls for example. We are still reading them. Scientist are even confident they will achieve time travel. Just one more thing that 30 years ago if one were to believe possible they would have been just another Delusional New Ager, or pot head. I will not go on, but I could talk about this all day as cold most of you of that I am sure, but I will not. Thank you for your time. My name is Greg.