'Spooky survey' gets big response
ABC Science Online
Friday, 17 November 2006
An international online survey of paranormal experiences has met with an overwhelming response, say Australian researchers. The survey, on phenomena that cannot be explained using the current laws of science, is by researchers at Monash University in Melbourne.
"The paranormal is covered by the media everyday. It is also in the public domain via chatrooms and websites and email lists," says Rosemary Breen, who will use the survey results as part of a Masters degree. "I wanted to tap into this and give a scholarly voice to these experiences."
A recent Gallup poll revealed that 75% of Americans hold at least one paranormal belief, and a UK newspaper poll showed that 60% of Britons accept the existence of the paranormal, say the researchers. But little is known about contemporary spontaneous experiences, and official surveys are rare, they say.
Breen says the survey is not about beliefs or whether parapsychological phenomena exist, rather it is about what people have experienced and the impact it has had on their lives. And she says she is not aware of any equivalent study in the world.
Some 2,000 people have made contact via the internet since the survey began six weeks ago, says Dr Beverley Jane, who is supervising Breen's research. She says 96% of respondents claim to have had at least one brush with the paranormal. The exercise seeks to gauge the frequency, effect and age of onset of unexplained phenomena such as premonitions, out-of-body and near-death episodes, telepathy and apparitions.
Results to date showed 70% of respondents believe an unexplained event changed their lives, mostly in a positive way. Some 70% also claim to have seen, heard or been touched by animal or person that wasn't there, 80% report having had a premonition, and almost 50% recalled a previous life.
"The respondents are sincere and they want to report what they have experienced," Jane says.
She is amazed by the strong response on such a sensitive subject, and put this down to the virtual nature of the study. "People can do it in the privacy of their homes instead of in front of the researcher, so they can answer honestly," she says. While the survey was anonymous, some people later sent emails with their contact details, Jane says.
She says the study is not seeking to assess respondents' mental health, but says it does offer people the chance to tell somebody about experiences they would normally keep to themselves. Due to the overwhelming response to the survey the researchers expect to extend the closing date for responses past its initial November deadline.