How Many People Have Seen a Ghost? More Than You Might Expect.

Superstition: a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation

I’ve long believed that people — Americans especially — are more superstitious than they let on.

That, as a national population, we’re more likely to cite karma than science to explain why things happen — especially in regards to fate and the general course of our lives.

Sure, technology is improving. More of us are educated. We know more about the physical world than ever before.

But for better or worse, we often seem relatively unmoved by the most earth-shattering scientific discoveries — even ones with profound potential to enhance the quality of our own lives. My evidence? Ask a French smoker whether smoking kills.

So I surveyed 251 people about superstition. I wanted to uncover what we really think about ghosts, karma, the spirit world — even aliens and time-travel. Are we really so “rational” in 2018, or are we more or less dominated by superstitious ways of thinking?

What happened was quite interesting…

The Survey

Like my last survey, this one includes my standard list of demographic questions — gender, age, ethnicity, and religious & political affiliation.

Also like my last survey, this one includes 20 questions about the subject at hand (superstition). 10 of these 20 are directly related to superstitious things, and the other 10 are about issues I predict have some correlation with belief in the superstitious (drug use, sleep habits, etc.). All 20 of these questions are Yes/No.

My methodology remains unchanged from previous surveys.

My Hypothesis

As stated above, I hypothesized that the majority of people believe in ghosts, karma, and other specific “superstitious” things, though they may not use that label to describe themselves and their beliefs at large.

I also predicted that things like drug use, staying up late (past midnight), and belief in God will correlate positively with superstitious beliefs. This is solely based on my personal experience with the types of people who supposedly see ghosts, have visions, etc.

Key Findings

  1. As I predicted, LOTS of people are superstitious. Only 40% use that label for themselves, but the majority of people believe in ghosts, in karma, and in the spirit world. To me, that’s superstitious.
  2. Also as I predicted, use of recreational drugs and poor sleep habits correlate positively with belief in the superstitious. Specifically, those who typically staying up past midnight are more than 50% more likely consider themselves superstitious and to have “seen a ghost.” Surprising to me, though, is that being a Christian (I’d say being “religious” at large, except my sample of non-Christians is too small) has little influence on one’s belief in the superstitious.
  3. Gender has a smaller impact on superstitious beliefs than I expected. While males are more likely to believe aliens exist (why am I not surprised), by and large, gender does not predict differences in superstitious beliefs one way or the other. (Again, I know aliens aren’t “superstitious,” but just humor me.)

Detailed Findings

First, a straightforward question about superstition. As I said above, less than half of people consider themselves “superstitious.” We’ll see later, though, that more than half claim to believe in what I’d consider superstitious things.

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Next, belief in, and experience with, ghosts. The majority believe that ghosts exist, and one-in-four claim to have seen a ghost.

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Next, karma. This is arguably not superstition, per se. But just bear with me.

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Next, the after-life (also as much religious as superstitious, but a fitting question in this survey).

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Next, visions and the “spirit world.” While most people believe in the spirit world, less than one-third claim to have ever had a spiritual vision.

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Finally, assorted questions on God, aliens, and time-travel — just marginally superstitious, but relevant to my curiosities, nonetheless. Belief in God is high, as has been corroborated by countless other studies. Belief in aliens is a bit higher than I anticipated. The time-travel question was a bit of a wildcard, but I thought it interesting nonetheless.

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Predictors

As I mentioned earlier, I asked 10 more questions about behaviors and dispositions that I predicted might correlate — in some way or another — with belief in the superstitious.

Here’s the aggregate findings. There meaningful to me insofar as they correlate positively with belief in the superstitious.

These questions were presented in random order to each respondent.

I segmented the 10 superstition questions by each of these 10 predictor questions, and discovered some interesting things.

First, I cut willingness to describe oneself as superstitious by age group. Turns out, there’s a pretty strong negative correlation between age and likeliness to consider oneself superstitious. In other words, young people are more superstitious than old people.

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Next is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting findings. It’s reasonable to expect, I think, that older people are more likely than younger people to have seen a ghost in their lifetime. They’ve had more time — even several decades — wherein they might have seen a ghost.

But the chart below shows that while the number of people who’ve seen a ghost increases from the 18 to 34 age bracket to the 35 to 44 age bracket, it levels off after that. So no one sees ghosts after age 34?

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Here’s another one (below) on seeing ghosts, this time cut by people who do and do not typically have trouble sleeping at night. You’ll see that difficulty sleeping is positively correlated with likeliness to report having seen a ghost.

Some may find this makes their claim of seeing ghosts “questionable,” but hey — maybe these people have trouble sleeping at night because they’re scared of the ghost in their house…

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Another one on seeing ghosts — this time cut by recreational drug use. I simply asked respondents if they’ve ever tried recreational drugs.

What’s interesting, and somewhat curious, here is that those who’ve never tried recreational drugs are less than half as likely as those who have to report having seen a ghost. In other words, don’t use drugs if you don’t want to see a ghost (or don’t see ghosts if you don’t want to use drugs?).

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Last one on seeing ghosts — I filtered by Christians only. I’d like to have included other religions, but the sample size for all but Christians is just too small. The data shows that Christians are slightly less likely than non-Christians to report having seen a ghost — not what I expected, to be honest.

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Next, I cut the data by gender. Here’s the difference between male and females as regards belief in the existence of extra-terrestrial aliens — males are somewhat more likely than females to believe in aliens.

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There’s a lot more in this dataset. I’ve included what I consider the most meaningful and significant graphs here, but others are significant in ways you might not expect. Here’s a link to topline findings, plus the most interesting segmentations. If I didn’t include a segmentation, it’s because there wasn’t much there — I’m happy to run other cuts by request, though. Just catch me on Twitter.

Conclusion

My sample size here is a bit smaller than I’d like. But I think the data clearly shows that superstition and belief in ghost, the “spirit world,” and other pseudo-superstitious things are pervasive in the US.

That said, remove drug users and those who are typically awake at very late hours, and the percentage of “superstitious” people is going to fall rather significantly.