Paranormal Research and Confirmation Bias

Paranormal research and confirmation bias

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[This is an expanded essay based, in part, on my Introduction in The Mandela Effect – Theories and Explanations.]

Maybe I don’t need to articulate this, but — seeing a decades-long pattern among critics’ attacks on ghost research, the Mandela Effect, and so on — maybe it’s time I spoke up.

There seems to be a perception (erroneous, in my opinion) that people who lean into paranormal research aren’t very bright.

Or maybe critics think we slept through our schooling years?

On the contrary, serious paranormal researchers are often bright, well-educated, well-read, and thoughtful.

Of course we question the “it’s all in your head” explanations for ghosts, UFOs, cryptids, the Mandela Effect, and many other quirky anomalies.

We’re also very aware of confirmation bias.

And when we’ve ruled out those explanations as best we can, it’s why many of us continue our research: We know we’re not yet at a complete, bedrock answer to our questions.

Today, I want to address confirmation bias, so no one thinks we’re overlooking it.

Confirmation Bias

Basically — and in our research — confirmation bias means you’re leaning into a particular theory or belief, and looking for evidence to support it.

That is, people tend to pay more attention to anything that seems to agree with their existing ideas, and more readily dismiss arguments, no matter how credible.

Per Wikipedia, quoting Nickerson:

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values.

Confirmation bias and ghost hunting

Researching ghosts, the person might want to believe that ghosts are real, so they look for “proof” that ghosts exist.

That might be a flickering appearance of an apparition, or it could be an orb photo. It might be a “message” the ghost hunter (or someone with them) received, that seems like it could only come from a ghost.

Sometimes, at ghost hunting events, an attendee witnesses something odd and is convinced they’ve witnessed something ghostly.

That person is delighted to have their beliefs supported, and — for them — the outcome is happy (“Yes, ghosts are real”). They have the answer they wanted.

So, I’ve never felt obliged to disagree with them. After all, they may be correct. It’s a moot point if the person feels that the matter is resolved.

Among serious researchers, I might respond differently.

  • The “apparition” could be a flicker of light from a passing automobile’s headlights. Or a quirky reflection from a mirror.
  • The orb could be moisture, dust, or a reflection, although — generally — I’ve debunked those answers to the most baffling “ghost photos.” (At least 80% of the ghost photos sent to me are easily explained. But there’s always that slight doubt: Is the “normal” explanation the correct one?)
  • The “message” received by someone sensitive or psychic could be a memory (or past research) triggered — deliberately or subconsciously — by something or someone in the environment. (Recently at Facebook, I discussed a quirky aspect of this, replying to Stewart Sullivan’s comments at The Spooky Stuff with Alex Matsuo.)

However, rephrasing what the Cowardly Lion said in The Wizard of Oz: I do believe in ghosts.

(What ghosts are, or if that simple label is appropriate at all genuine hauntings… That’s another matter.)

The Wizard Of Oz _ I Do Believe In Spooks

The Cowardly Lion doesn’t have his courage yet.

Confirmation bias and the Mandela Effect

Skeptics and critics seem to suggest that the Mandela Effect is entirely “false memories.”

Well, yes, some of them might be false memories. We already know that. It’s one reason the topic is so volatile, but also deeply personal.

Many skeptics don’t seem to realize that many (most?) of us, when we discover that a memory seems “wrong” in this reality, immediately look for a logical explanation.

  • Maybe we got the idea from a trusted friend or family member and, at the time, they were confused or mistaken.
  • Perhaps the memory was from an error in news reporting. (The classic may be “Dewey Defeats Truman!“)
  • Or, in the case of decades of “Elvis sightings” in the tabloid press, it might be wishful thinking.
  • It might be a blurry childhood memory, and errors were reinforced by the media. Even now, if you’re looking for Jif peanut butter, Amazon lists “Jiffy” peanut butter in the top 10 suggestions in the search results. (It was never “Jiffy,” only “Jif.”)
  • Another classic memory, blurred by cultural references, is “Mirror, Mirror on the wall.” (In the original Disney film, it was actually “Magic Mirror on the wall.”) If you want to discover how that confusion may have started and been reinforced, it’s explained at a clickbait-ish website called (and yes, the site is real) But, to be fair (albeit with a slightly raised eyebrow), that site can save you a lot of research time if you’re double-checking your own memories.

When there’s no “proof”

The term “proof” is popularly used to challenge those of us musing about paranormal research.

When I hear it, it seems eerily reminiscent of playground challenges by bullies, “Oh yeah…? Prove it!”

Putting that aside, I think most paranormal researchers will admit that we have no absolute, irrefutable evidence of ghosts, UFOs, the Mandela Effect, doppelgangers, cryptids, Atlantis, and so on.

In each case, the decisions we reach are personal. They’re what seem to make the most sense to us.

Or, if nothing makes enough sense, we keep researching. That’s the logical thing to do.

logical (said by Spock)


That’s why I continue my research: I believe that something odd is happening at “haunted” sites. It’s paranormal, meaning — literally — it’s outside what we’d define as normal.

Yes, maybe it’s “dead people,” but maybe they’re not dead at all. Or maybe just some of them are.

I don’t think we have the kind of evidence we need to make any concrete claims. (No crypt puns intended.)

Similarly, I believe our collaborative Mandela Effect research has produced some baffling results. While many alternate memories might have logical, very normal explanations, some don’t resolve that easily.

The latter are the ones that fascinate me. But, I’ll also admit that Many Interacting Worlds theories could explain some hauntings and Mandela Effect memories.

In terms of the Mandela Effect, personally, I like Professor Carroll’s theories. (The following video is part of a longer one about quantum physics.)

Parallel Worlds Probably Exist. Here’s Why

The most elegant interpretation of quantum mechanics is the universe is constantly splitting A portion of this video was sponsored by Norton. Get up to 60% off the first year (annually billed) here: or use promo code VERITASIUM Special thanks to: Prof.

Confirmation bias and social media

In lieu of “proof” of paranormal experiences, people often turn to social media.

From my website dashboard, in the early days of the Mandela Effect website, I could see the date stamps and IP numbers of people making comments.

So, I knew when people were posting from near each other, and their memories might have been affected by conversations with one another.  Contagion of ideas/memories had to be considered.

(The disparate IP numbers didn’t rule out the possibility that they didn’t know each other at all. Or that people now living far apart were actually close to one another in the past.)

Later, around 2014, I could see when trolls were using multiple usernames to post supposed memories, and then tried to endorse them with other usernames. (When I noticed that, I either never approved the comments, or deleted them as soon as I realized a prank was in progress.)

That’s why I’m uneasy about other, Mandela Effect related forums, where moderators may not have the time or patience to filter out false “me, too!” posts, trolls, pranks, and even ridiculous claims.

But, I’m also mindful that when someone deliberately shares an incomplete memory, and then sees a response from someone — and it confirms details the original poster didn’t mention — that can support the alternate memory. It makes the Mandela Effect seem more real.

The problem is, that confirmation is very personal. It’s not something we can hold up as evidence that the Mandela Effect exists at all.

I’m in favor of using your critical thinking skills, and keeping confirmation bias in mind in your research.

For now, I think that the “correct” answer is the one that makes the most sense to you, and helps you sleep at night.

(If you’re obsessing about ghosts, demons, the Mandela Effect, and so on, please speak with a minister or mental health professional, immediately.)

Confirmation bias is real, and it can be a problem in paranormal research.

My advice is to use due diligence and research the experience that interest you the most. Rely less on social media. Instead, actively try to debunk your own, best theories.

That’s the best way to feel confident about paranormal topics, and — sharing your discoveries with fellow researchers — help us understand what’s really going on at haunted sites, in the “devil’s triangle,” at Area 51, and the quirky experiences we label the Mandela Effect.


P.S. For those who, like me, like exploring quantum-related theories, here’s a quirky YouTube video with a different approach: We’re simulations.

You are a Simulation & Physics Can Prove It: George Smoot at TEDxSalford

Astrophysicist, cosmologist and Nobel Prize winner George Smoot studies the cosmic microwave background radiation – the afterglow of the Big Bang. His pioneering research into deep space and time is uncovering the structure of the universe itself. He has also made a cameo appearance (as himself) in an episode of the ‘Big Bang Theory.’

(And a trivia-ish comment: I’m not sure if George Smoot is related to Oliver Smoot of the MIT bridge fame.)