Your never-ending fascination with the “Long Island Medium” may actually be a sign that you’re not the best at thinking on your feet, suggests recent research published earlier this February in Memory & Cognition.

The pair of University of Chicago researchers embarked on a quirky sort of experiment. First they polled over 2,000 people online about their belief in psychic phenomena, their life satisfaction, and various other factors. They then recruited 100 of the strongest believers and skeptics, equally matched in age, sex, and education level, to take a series of tests measuring their memory and analytical thinking skills, either in-person at the university or online. While believers weren’t more likely to have poor memory or be fooled into creating false memories, they did on average perform worse on the thinking tests than skeptics.

“These findings demonstrate cognitive similarities and differences between these groups and suggest that differences in analytical thinking and conceptual knowledge might contribute to the development of psychic beliefs,” the authors concluded.

Crystal ball
Why do people believe in psychics? A recent study suggests they may not be the best thinkers. Pixabay, Public Domain

In particular, believers were more likely to flub simple logic, reasoning, and vocabulary questions, such as one that asked them to find a word related to “falling, actor, dust” (the answer is star). They also more frequently expressed a belief in conspiracy theories. Despite these differences, believers weren’t lazier thinkers; they tested just as high as skeptics when asked how much they enjoy exerting mental effort.

Because the study only looked at the associations between memory, cognition, and psychic belief, it can’t tell us for sure whether poor cognition leads to unprovable beliefs. In other words, just because you’re not the best at logic puzzles, that doesn’t mean you’re destined to become a dyed-in-the-wool true believer. But the study does add some mixed support to the theory that the way we process information about the world can influence our belief in the supernatural. The worse we are at analytic thinking, the theory explains, the more we might rely on our gut intuition. In turn, that might mean we won’t examine a psychic's claims of fortune-telling critically.

That’s not to say a belief in psychics is necessarily bad for you. Echoing similar research on so-called positive superstitions, the authors found that believers had greater life satisfaction than skeptics on average. So even if you’re feeling a bit defensive about holding onto your tarot cards with pride, at least you can comfort yourself in the fact that you’re not a curmudgeonly skeptic.

Source: Gray S, Gallo D. Paranormal psychic believers and skeptics: a large-scale test of the cognitive differences hypothesis. Memory & Cognition . 2016.