Public Release: 

Why belief in the supernatural is only natural

For Halloween: New research on rituals and belief in the supernatural

Society for Personality and Social Psychology

From disguises to belief in magic, Halloween is rich with stories that share insight into human behavior. Check out this new research to be presented at the SPSP annual convention in Austin, Feb. 13-15, 2014.

Why Belief in the Supernatural is Only Natural

In many parts of the world, belief in witchcraft and magic is alive and well, with people relying on rituals for everything from treating asthma to curbing infidelity. Even if you don't believe in witchcraft outside of Halloween, chances are you believe in some form of the supernatural, even if just the power of the ritual -- whether wearing a lucky jersey to bestow luck on your favorite sports team or praying for a sick friend.

From a young age, many people develop beliefs in the supernatural, often through participation in rituals, to influence events in the natural world. By studying real-life Brazilian rituals, Cristine Legare and André Souza of the University of Texas at Austin were able to create their own rituals to examine why people think they work. They are now finding that rituals help people gain a sense of control over their environment.


Contact Cristine Legare: legare[at]; her past work looks also at why beliefs in witchcraft and science are not psychologically incompatible.

Other expert on rituals:

Michael Norton, Harvard School of Business, mnorton[at], who studies how rituals relate to control and help people to mitigate grief

Legare and Norton will both present their research on Friday, Feb. 14, in Symposium S-D6: "Symposium S-D6: "Rituals Make Life Better -- By Enhancing Consumption, Communicating Social Norms, Treating Illness, and Relieving Grief" at the SPSP convention in Austin.

Other Halloween-related experts:

Don Forsyth, University of Richmond, dforsyth[at], studies the effects of anonymity on people in groups and can speak about the psychology of Halloween disguises

Nathan Dewall, University of Kentucky,, whose new work looks at the Voodoo Doll task, which builds off the idea that people transfer characteristics of a person onto a voodoo doll representing that person, in order to study aggression

SPSP promotes scientific research that explores how people think, behave, feel, and interact. The Society is the largest organization of social and personality psychologists in the world.

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