Sentences with core knowledge violations increase the size of N400 among paranormal believers.Cortex 2008 Nov-Dec; 44(10):1307-15C
A major problem in research on paranormal beliefs is that the concept of "paranormality" remains to be adequately defined. The aim of this study was to empirically justify the following definition: paranormal beliefs are beliefs in physical, biological, or psychological phenomena that contain core ontological attributes of one of the other two categories [e.g., a stone (physical) having thoughts (psychological)]. We hypothesized that individuals who believe in paranormal phenomena are slower in understanding whether sentences with core knowledge violations are literally true than skeptics, and that this difference would be reflected by a more negative N400. Ten believers and 10 skeptics (six men, age range 23-49) participated in the study. Event-related potentials (N400) were recorded as the participants read 210 three-word Finnish sentences, of which 70 were normal ("The house has a history"), 70 were anomalies ("The house writes its history") and 70 included violations of core knowledge ("The house knows its history"). The participants were presented with a question that contextualized the sentences: "Is this sentence literally true?" While the N400 effects were similar for normal and anomalous sentences among the believers and the skeptics, a more negative N400 effect was found among the believers than among the skeptics for sentences with core knowledge violations. The results support the new definition of "paranormality", because participants who believed in paranormal phenomena appeared to find it more difficult to construct a reasonable interpretation of the sentences with core knowledge violations than the skeptics did as indicated by the N400.