Unconscious bias and the paranormal

Sometimes the way we interpret and assess information is done on a subconscious level that we are not even aware of. How does this effect us during a paranormal investigation?
Sarah Chumacero
22nd September 2018.
General, Stuff paranormal investigators need to know.
775 page views.

When someone is being bias about something, they are making some sort of judgement or assessment of a situation or person, place etc. Then there is what is referred to as an unconscious bias. This is something you don’t have control over. Your brain is making these judgements and assessments unbeknownst to you. In this case you have no influence in the matter. You see what your brain wants you to see.

Difference between unconscious bias and confirmation bias.

Turns out there are different ways in which we can be bias. We know about unconscious bias which I explained above, but then there is also confirmation bias which is something a lot of paranormal investigators are already aware of. It is where we have a tendency to look for or interpret a situation based on what we believe or what we are looking for. When we look at confirmation bias from a paranormal perspective, if someone is out on a ‘ghost hunt’ looking specifically for a ghost believing they exist, if they see something out of the ordinary, they are likely to interpret this as a ghost. Confirmation bias also means you will essentially ignore information that doesn’t line up with your beliefs. It isn’t something you are doing on purpose, it is just how we are built. A lot of what we do is on an unconscious level.

When we compare confirmation bias to unconscious bias, they are in a lot of ways similar and almost go hand in hand. Some of our beliefs could in fact influence our unconscious bias so the terms are considered to be related. The best way to define them so to speak is to think of it as unconscious bias is judgements your brain is making on your behalf. A confirmation bias is making judgements based on your beliefs, your research and studies etc. In both cases, you probably are not aware that it is even happening.

To be bias in any form in general implies that we do not have an open mind, something that is essential when it comes to paranormal research and investigating. You have to be open to the possibility that something could be natural, but you have to be equally open to the possibility that you may not be able to explain it. This is where it gets tricky because if your are being bias on a subconscious level, you aren’t even aware you are doing it.

How can this effect us during a paranormal investigation?

We know as fact that our brain can play tricks with us, especially when it comes to our eyesight. I have spoken before about peripheral drift vision which is where a static image of colours can appear they are moving like an optical illusion. In low light environments, this could be explanation for some instances of shadow people. I have also spoken about what is called an after image where after staring at the same space for a prolong period of time, your eyes start to make patterns or see things. These are all natural reactions from our brain. It is how we interpret these anomalies. Some may sit in the dark and say oh my eyes are playing tricks on me because I am staring into space, while others may say I just saw an apparition. The first initial reaction we have is a form of unconscious bias. If for example you believe in shadow people and you goto a location and they tell you that shadow people roam a particular hallway. If you stare down that hallway in the dark for a long period of time and see something moving, you may automatically interpret it to be paranormal without even realising.

Testing subconscious bias

I recently put an image on my facebook page to essentially show just how much a subconscious bias can effect what we see with our own eyes. It was an image from the early 1900’s where you will either see the image of an older woman in her 60’s, or a young woman in her mid 20’s. Some people may even see both. I recently read that research suggested that the age of a person could influence what you see. They implied that you would see the figure that was closest to your own age. After a quick quiz from the LLIFS on Facebook, I found this really had no merit as there were people in their 50’s that could only see the young lady, and there were younger people in their 30’s that could only see the older lady. I for one could only see the older lady. No matter how hard I looked for a period over about 3 hours, I could not see the younger lady. I had people explain and point out the features of this young lady, yet I still could not see them. I don’t necessarily believe that age makes much of a difference here but the exercise highlighted something quite important. Over the dozens of people that responded to their answers, we were seeing different things from the same image.

Herein lies the point of this exercise. No matter what we look at, based on how our brain processes information, we see and interpret that information differently on a subconscious level. Almost like a form pf pareidolia. This picture is the perfect example of people seeing things completely differently to others. When you bring confirmation bias into the mix, if you are a religious person or a highly sceptical person, this again is going to effect how you process information during a paranormal investigation. Is this why on an investigation some people feel they are seeing something and having some sort of paranormal experience while the person next to them sees or feels nothing?

It seems on some levels, certain people are more sensitive to the paranormal or are perhaps mediums etc and seem to have more personal experiences than other people. Does our subconscious play a role in this as well? If on a subconscious level we are closed minded due to our bias, does that mean that we won’t have a paranormal experience when compared to someone who is more open minded? It is a difficult subject to work with because in a lot of ways, a leopard doesn’t change it’s spots so you can’t just change someone’s beliefs or opinions with a click of a finger. When it comes to the paranormal, it usually comes down to something personal. Some kind of personal experience that has them question everything. Sometimes that is what it takes for them to become more open minded. It can work in reverse as well. Maybe someone does believe in spirits, but the more they investigate, they find nothing is happening and they may start becoming more and more close minded as they aren’t experiencing anything.

It can be difficult to draw any sort of conclusions when your subconscious is already working against you. So what do you do? Arm yourself with knowledge. Education is the key. Inform yourself of ALL of the possibilities. Look at things from a natural perspective, from a spiritual perspective, from a religious perspective, from a scientific perspective and everything else in-between. You are likely to make rash judgements in the heat of the moment I know I do it all of the time. Once the adrenaline and the excitement wears off, have a look at what was really going on. Approach it from all of the angles. Once you have formed your judgement on a situation, it actually helps you for the next time. The next time something similar happens on an investigation, you wont have the same quick reaction because you have educated yourself as to what is going on.

There is of course always things though that will happen that you just can’t explain. Maybe it is our subconscious and maybe it is something else. This is just one of the many answers we are searching for.

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