The influence of the media on paranormal belief

4th August 2020. Reading Time: 9 minutes General. 1112 page views. 0 comments.

Does the media influence the way people believe in the paranormal? Does the media have a responsibility with the way they report about paranormal research?

The Twilight Zone, In Search Of, and Unsolved Mysteries, were just some of the paranormal-themed television programs that helped light a spark within many budding paranormal investigators.  Fast forward to the early 2000's.  In 2002, Most Haunted graced our screens and showed us something many of us had never really thought about before.  While many believed in ghosts, not everyone realized that you could actually go out to places and investigate them.  Of course, these are things many paranormal researchers have done for decades, but this was the first glimpse that a mainstream audience had of 'ghost hunting'.  What followed was a plethora of shows including Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, and Paranormal State which involved traveling to the homes of those who felt they had something going on.  All had a different approach but the same common goal.  That goal was to entertain.  In 2020, there are so many different reality-based paranormal shows that I can't keep count.  Some are led by researchers who have spent their lives researching and investigating paranormal phenomena, and others are led by curious celebrities who just want to see what it is all about and offer a 'draw' for viewers.  While the more serious sort of paranormal investigators treat these programs as a form of entertainment and nothing more, there are those that believe they are the 'gospel' when it comes to the paranormal.  While a lot of paranormal researchers spent their years reading books by the likes of names like Hans Holzer, Peter Underwood, and Harry Price, a lot of the newer generation of paranormal investigators base their understanding of the paranormal on what the crew from Ghost Adventures tweets out.  I'm not bagging an interest or pathway into the paranormal from watching these shows.  I too found my way to the field after watching my share of paranormal shows.  When I realized it was something you could actually go out and do at a location, I was in.  Had it not been for some of those shows, my path could have been quite different, so they have a role to play.  What I did learn very early on, however, was that being out in the field was nothing like these paranormal shows portrayed.

Do celebrity paranormal personalities have a responsibility when it comes to what they say about the paranomal?

Personally, I believe yes.  I'm not even close to being any sort of celebrity, but I do try to be very careful about the way I speak if I am sharing something publicly.  I do try not to state something as fact and really try to drill down the point to people that anything they are likely hearing about the paranormal, is based on a person's experiences and beliefs.  I always encourage them to seek their own answers and empower themselves with knowledge to make up their own mind.  I find myself troubled when I see some of the paranormal celebrities with popular paranormal shows telling people that 'spirits do this' and 'demons do that'.  Recently during one show, the cast was tweeting out to their millions of followers that demons travel through electricity, so it was possible just by watching their show meant the viewer was potentially at risk.  This is so irresponsible on so many different levels.  Spreading fear based on your own beliefs is something I see quite a lot of, not just from paranormal celebrities, but from people within the paranormal field with a following.  

There are a lot of people within the paranormal that happily share their thoughts but are pretty clear that they are just that ....... they are their thoughts.  They will generally have a following of people who believe the same way.  Some followers may not agree with everything they say, but they like or resonate with their approach and that is why they follow that page or person.  Many within the field are just doing their thing and people like to tag along virtually because they enjoy it.

The reality is that no one actually knows anything concrete when it comes to the paranormal.  As a viewer, it is important that we understand this too.  Sadly a lot of the people that do what these shows are portraying without question.  Especially those people that are not out there investigating the paranormal field.  You only have to put up a photo of the Dybbuk Box to see my point.  They are the people that are almost too scared to even mutter the words 'Ouija board' because a sense of fear has been ingrained into them from watching these shows.  The paranormal does not have to be negative.  When we look at genuine paranormal research that took place decades ago, our pioneers didn't even have to leave their house to make what they believed was contact with the spirit world.  They did it at home.  They never complained that demons were haunting them.  They didn't need to travel across the country to the world's most haunted jail.  They got their results from the comfort of their home.  So what changed?  

I believe a lot of it comes down to not only these paranormal shows and even movies, but mass media as well.

Does the media have a responsibility when it comes to reporting about the paranormal?

Journalists use a lot of words to describe a paranormal investigator.  You will commonly hear terms such as paranormal expert, ghostbuster, sleuth, and more.  It is not done with any malice; it is more to drill down the point to their audience that the subject they have chosen to talk about the topic knows what they are talking about, hence why they were chosen for the feature.  The media often talks about the paranormal as if it is indeed a fact and publishes the thoughts of those who are featured in their piece.  Again, nothing wrong with this, I have had many friends who have shared their life-long stories and felt a sense of recognition by being in a publication.  I was even in a magazine years ago.  I mean we all enjoy our 15 minutes, don't we?  My experience however was that my words were twisted and I was not even quoted correctly.  The journalist had taken creative freedom using my words to fit the narrative of the story they were writing.  Many people will agree that this has been their experience as well.

Another problem can be when certain information is published that is heavily backed by that person's belief system.  You could have a heavily religious person for example quoting in a national newspaper that any sort of interaction with a spirit could lead to a demonic attachment. Statements such as this are problematic because they can cause unnecessary fear in someone who is impressionable.  You could have someone stating that doing certain things in your own home can attract paranormal spirits.  I was told once by a random woman I met during an investigation that because I had a pentagram symbol on my necklace that I was encouraging demons to attack me.  Statements like this don't matter to me but what if they were said to someone who was more impressionable?  Certain statements especially when published in a publication or said by someone with public authority can influence someone to the point where they are almost causing their own haunting.  Every noise suddenly becomes something they believe is paranormal and you can have someone who does not feel safe in their own home - just by reading the words of a person.  While you may think I am exaggerating, I have seen this happen.  Teenagers can be naturally curious.  I mean didn't we all play with an Ouija board when we were younger?  (I still do). When some parents find out the things their teens have been up to, there have been cases where they think something is happening in their home as a result of something they have read.

In recent years, a movie promotion caused the 'Charlie Charlie' challenge to go viral.  Suddenly, people again felt that it summoned something demonic if a pencil rolled off the table.  Many of these people were impressionable teenagers who had seen the video on YouTube.  It was even mentioned on the news!

There is an intriguing study that I encourage you to read which explores the relationship between the media and belief in the paranormal.  

The first hypothesis was that television viewing (particularly viewing of paranormal programs) would be positively correlated with paranormal beliefs. This hypothesis was supported. As the regression equations reported in Tables2&3 reveal, viewing paranormal programs accounts for a significant portion of variance in
paranormal beliefs even after controlling for age, sex, income, education, and two different measures of religiosity. It is important to note that this result cannot be interpreted unequivocally as evidence for the impact of paranormal programming. Surveys of this type simply do not permit conclusions that establish causal direction.
It is always possible that some unmeasured third variable accounts for the relationship that was observed. It is also possible that the relationship indicates that those who believe in the paranormal are more likely to view paranormal programs. While this is certainly a reasonable conjecture, it is also important to recall that the
experimental evidence reviewed earlier clearly shows that exposure to paranormal
programs affects beliefs. Of course, it is possible that the relationship is bidirectional. Future research should be designed to test the selective exposure hypothesis that believers in the paranormal seek out paranormal media

Investigating the Relationship Between Exposure to Television Programs that Depict Paranormal Phenomena and Beliefs in the Paranormal Glenn G. Sparks and Will Miller

What this study points out is that those who have a belief in the paranormal are more likely to seek out media on that subject.  If you believe in ghosts, you are more likely to read the article in the local paper of the '10 most haunted locations'.  If you are just a person with a casual belief and not a paranormal researcher within the paranormal field, you are more likely going to accept what is written at face value.  So while a lot of us know to ingest the media cautiously, there is a large percentage of the population that will take it as fact. 

With this in mind, I ask again, do you think the media have a responsibility for the way that the paranormal is reported?  While there will always be the 'entertainment' element, maybe there needs to be more than just that one person represented on these shows in the paranormal team that is the 'resident skeptic'.  A real investigation would never be shown in its real form on television because it would be too boring and not sensational enough.  Even television personalities have told me that they are encouraged to 'overact' their reactions, so they play out better on television.  There are always going to be a portion of that population that will believe everything they see or read; however, it is also up to us to try not to sensationalize things just to get a few more likes.  

There are many out there that have a large audience that draws a viewer in with their personality, their integrity, their honesty, and most importantly their work.  Let your work speak for itself!

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