Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Too Open to Ideas?

By Matthew Browne

Why do intelligent people believe incredible things? Psychological studies suggest that the answer may lie in personality type rather than any measure of intelligence.

Dr Matthew Browne is a Lecturer in Psychology at CQUniversity and a biostatistician at the Institute for Health and Social Science Research.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

It’s easy to become fascinated as to why people come to have the beliefs and attitudes they do. For example, what leads an apparently sensible and rational person to become a Scientologist? Or to declare with conviction that beneficial energy waves are emanating from a particular form of crystal? That aliens are visiting Earth regularly to abduct and probe us? Or my personal favourite: that a vast and complex conspiracy centred on shape-shifting lizard people is controlling and manipulating our societies. There seem almost no limits to what some people are prepared to believe.

I’ve become increasingly interested in why an increasing number of Australians are embracing complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs). To a naïve observer they seem, in many cases, to have as little going for them as the lizard-men conspiracy theory in terms of evidence and common sense. So, why do so many intelligent and cultured people whole-heartedly adopt homeopathy, “energy” therapies and the rest while other people remain completely indifferent to their charms?

As a psychologist, my first impulse was to hit the literature. It turns out that recent research is shedding some light on the individual factors that can explain CAM adherence. Before I can tell you about it, though, I need to introduce a couple of psychological constructs: intuitive versus analytical thinking, and...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.