What is it about?

It has been claimed that people interpret weird coincidences as paranormal because they underestimate the probability of their occurring by sheer chance. In two studies, we found that believers did report coming across more coincidences, and did make more errors in problems that required understanding of chance, than skeptics. For example, they tried harder to avoid repetitions of identical numbers when we asked them to imagine casting a dice. However, frequency of coincidences and misinterpretation of chance were not associated to one another; and among university students the difference between believers and skeptics in probabilistic reasoning disappeared, whereas the difference in frequency of coincidences did not. This suggests that the repeated experience of coincidences is not caused by a more distorted idea of chance.

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Why is it important?

People who believe in the paranormal appear to connect separate, independent events more easily than do skeptics. So, believers will come across a larger number of coincidences as a direct consequence: no need to assume that they do because they are worse at figuring out the probability that coincidences occur by chance.

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This page is a summary of: The connection between random sequences, everyday coincidences, and belief in the paranormal, Applied Cognitive Psychology, January 2002, Wiley, DOI: 10.1002/acp.754.
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