The Chapman University Survey of American Fears Wave 4 (2017) includes a battery of items on paranormal beliefs ranging from belief in Bigfoot and psychic powers to visits by aliens and haunted houses.

Chapman Fear Survey infographic for Paranormal Beliefs

Paranormal Beliefs

Currently the most common paranormal belief in the United States is the belief that ancient, advanced civilizations, such as Atlantis once exited with more than half of respondents (55%) agreeing or strongly agreeing with this statement. Slightly more than half (52%) believe that places can be haunted by spirits. More than a third (35%) believe that that aliens visited Earth in our ancient past and more than a fourth believe aliens have come to Earth in modern times (26%). Of the items we asked about, Americans are the most skeptical about Bigfoot, with only approximately 16% of Americans expressing belief in its existence. 

Paranormal Belief Percent Agree or Strongly Agree
Ancient, advanced civilizations, such as Atlantis, once existed 55.0%
Places can be haunted by spirits 52.3%
Aliens have visited Earth in our ancient past 35.0%
Aliens have come to Earth in modern times 26.2%
Some people can move objects with their minds 25.0%
Fortune tellers and psychics can foresee the future 19.4%
Bigfoot is a real creature 16.2%

The Prevalence of Paranormal Beliefs

Paranormal beliefs are quite common in the United States, if we examine how many such beliefs a person holds. Using the seven paranormal items included on the Chapman University Survey of American Fears Wave 4 (2017), we find that only a fourth of Americans (25.3%) do not hold any of these seven beliefs. However, this means that nearly three-fourths of Americans do believe in something paranormal.

Indeed, some Americans believe in many paranormal phenomena, as listed below:

# of Beliefs Percent
No paranormal beliefs 25.3%
1 paranormal belief 20.8%
2 paranormal beliefs 13.8%
3 paranormal beliefs 12.3%
4 paranormal beliefs 9.6%
5 paranormal beliefs 8.4%
6 paranormal beliefs 4.7%
All 7 paranormal beliefs 5.0%

Paranormal People

We examined the extent to which the following characteristics were related to holding paranormal beliefs:

  • Age
  • Biblical literalism
  • Does respondent live in metropolitan area
  • Education
  • Employment status
  • Frequency of church attendance
  • Gender
  • How religious is respondent? (self-reported)
  • Income
  • Marital status
  • Political party (with which party does respondent identify)
  • Political preference (how conservative or liberal is respondent)
  • Race/Ethnicity
  • Region of the country
  • Religious tradition (Catholic, Protestant, “Just Christian,” Jewish, Other, no religion)

The following are the personal characteristics that are significantly associated with higher levels of paranormal belief, ordered by the magnitude of the effect.

People with the highest levels of paranormal belief tend to have/be:

  • Lower income
  • Report themselves as highly religious
  • Attend religious services infrequently
  • Female
  • Conservative
  • Either single or cohabitating
  • “Other race” – not white, black or Hispanic
  • Living in a rural area
  • West coast resident

Simply put, the person with the highest number of paranormal beliefs in the United States as of 2017 will tend to be a lower income, female living in a rural area in the Western states. She tends to be politically conservative and claims to be highly religious, although she actually attends religious services infrequently. She is either currently single or cohabitating with someone and reports her race as “other.”

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