Investigation of viewer opinions on the use of "science" in paranormal reality television shows

Kimberley Thomas, Callum E Cooper

Research output: Contribution to ConferenceAbstract


Research has indicated that paranormal genre television – for example, paranormal dramas – has an effect on levels of paranormal belief due to the use of ‘scientific validation’ (Godman, 1982; Larsen, 2015). Although paranormal reality television shows investigating purportedly haunted locations has some similarities with psychical research and parapsychology, there is limited research into effect that paranormal reality television has on paranormal belief and ‘what the viewers really think’ with regards to what parapsychology is and how parapsychology is seen as credible science (or not) through this media representation (Gaynor, 1996).

This paper will discuss a lab-based study that investigated the impact such television shows have on people, alongside their views and opinions of how scientific the shows presented themselves to be and why. There are a variety of popular science based shows in today’s media, often featuring medicine, astronomy, etc., but where and how does parapsychology feature in this?

A mixed-method design was used recruiting sixty participants. Belief scales were distributed to participants pre and post-test. The test involved participants being assigned to either one of two groups, which involved watching either one of two different reality paranormal shows, with varying portrayals of scientific methods with regards to haunting investigations. The use of open-ended questions provided in a booklet to participants allowed for opinions on such shows to be collected, and how participants viewed such shows as ‘scientific’ alongside the believability of the ‘evidence’ the shows presented for anomalous phenomena. The views and opinions expressed were subjected to a thematic analysis. Although no significant findings were discovered in terms of levels of belief, pre and post-test (before and after watching the programme clips), the results of the thematic analysis presented insightful information which supported previous results, particularly in that the display of equipment used by people is considered by viewers to be scientific and provides proof to the viewer of anomalous processes taking place and scientific standards employed.

The study concluded that parapsychology has a chance for serious presentation in the media if the methods being used are accurately and clearly presented in line with scientific standards – and therefore communicated to the viewer. This will be further discussed within the presentation, alongside issues which may influence beliefs of the viewers and suggestions for further study.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2016
Event40th SPR International Annual Conference - University of Leeds, Leeds, United Kingdom
Duration: 2 Sept 20164 Sept 2016
Conference number: 40


Conference40th SPR International Annual Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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