Science: The Fringe and the Mainstream

The Story:

Psychologists at the University of Barcelona have reached a conclusion that matches intuitive expectations: they have found that people who believe in “fringe” sciences such as astrology and water dowsing generally require less evidence before reaching a conclusion that do those who are skeptical of the claims of such pseudosciences.

The Test: 

Authors Javier Rodríguez-Ferreiro and Itxaso Barberia conducted their experiment on undergraduate psychology students, most of them women.

One of the tests they conducted involved a jar with blue and red beads. The undergraduates were told the jar was either “mainly red beads” or “mainly blue.” They were presented with a small box. They could take beads out of a box one by one, and they were asked to guess, whenever they chose, which of the two jars the beads in that box had come from.

People who were skeptical about the pseudo-sciences regularly looked at a larger sample of beads before calling the jar “mainly” one color or the other than did those who participated in those ways of thinking.

Strange New Worlds: 

This experiment (and another similar test Rodriguez-Ferreiro and Barberia employed) strengthened the suspicion that people, for example, who take astrological predictions seriously have a broad jumping-to-conclusions cognitive bias.  Of course, one would like to see more such work. Without replication it might just be considered the equivalent of a single blue bead.

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