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Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0267360
Number of pages31
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume17
Issue5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2022

Abstract

BACKGROUND: Research into paranormal beliefs and cognitive functioning has expanded considerably since the last review almost 30 years ago, prompting the need for a comprehensive review. The current systematic review aims to identify the reported associations between paranormal beliefs and cognitive functioning, and to assess study quality.

METHOD: We searched four databases (Scopus, ScienceDirect, SpringerLink, and OpenGrey) from inception until May 2021. Inclusion criteria comprised papers published in English that contained original data assessing paranormal beliefs and cognitive function in healthy adult samples. Study quality and risk of bias was assessed using the Appraisal tool for Cross-Sectional Studies (AXIS) and results were synthesised through narrative review. The review adhered to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines and was preregistered as part of a larger registration on the Open Science Framework (https://osf.io/uzm5v).

RESULTS: From 475 identified studies, 71 (n = 20,993) met our inclusion criteria. Studies were subsequently divided into the following six categories: perceptual and cognitive biases (k = 19, n = 3,397), reasoning (k = 17, n = 9,661), intelligence, critical thinking, and academic ability (k = 12, n = 2,657), thinking style (k = 13, n = 4,100), executive function and memory (k = 6, n = 810), and other cognitive functions (k = 4, n = 368). Study quality was rated as good-to-strong for 75% of studies and appears to be improving across time. Nonetheless, we identified areas of methodological weakness including: the lack of preregistration, discussion of limitations, a-priori justification of sample size, assessment of nonrespondents, and the failure to adjust for multiple testing. Over 60% of studies have recruited undergraduates and 30% exclusively psychology undergraduates, which raises doubt about external validity. Our narrative synthesis indicates high heterogeneity of study findings. The most consistent associations emerge for paranormal beliefs with increased intuitive thinking and confirmatory bias, and reduced conditional reasoning ability and perception of randomness.

CONCLUSIONS: Although study quality is good, areas of methodological weakness exist. In addressing these methodological issues, we propose that authors engage with preregistration of data collection and analysis procedures. At a conceptual level, we argue poorer cognitive performance across seemingly disparate cognitive domains might reflect the influence of an over-arching executive dysfunction.

Notes

© 2022 Dean et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

ID: 27289507