Paranormal experiences are common

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Paranormal experiences in the German population. A representative interview study

The empirically oriented research project consisted of a representative population survey on attitudes and experiences in the area of ​​the paranormal as well as a subsequent qualitative survey of a partial sample on their own extraordinary experience.

The representative survey of 1,510 people shows that the German population is extremely open to such phenomena and experiences. Between 50 and 70 percent of the respondents can imagine that certain paranormal phenomena such as extra-sensory perception, telepathy or precognition actually exist. The existence of UFOs is conceivable for almost 25 percent of the population.

The positive attitude towards the 'supernatural' corresponds to the spread of personal experiences in this area: Almost three quarters of the respondents had at least one extraordinary experience in their life that can be assigned to the area of ​​paranormal experiences in the broadest sense. Even if the more everyday experiences such as déjà vu or amazing coincidences occur most frequently in the population (see figure), more than 50 percent of the respondents report classic paranormal experiences such as true dreams, apparitions or spooks.

It is noteworthy that the occurrence of such experiences is generally independent of sociodemographic characteristics such as gender, origin, education and religion: just as many women and men, East and West Germans, church-organized people and non-denominational people experience extraordinary experiences (on average between two and three of those in types of experiences mentioned in the figure). Only the age of the respondents has a clear influence. It can be stated here that the openness to paranormal phenomena decreases significantly with increasing age. But the proportion of one's own extraordinary experiences also decreases with increasing age. In other words: for younger people not only the existence of supernatural phenomena is more conceivable, but they also have such experiences significantly more often.

In the second part of the project, more than 200 topic-centered interviews were conducted and analyzed. The focus here was less on representative data and statistical relationships, but rather on content-related questions about topics, accompanying circumstances, interpretations and explanations of the extraordinary experiences.

The individual findings of this qualitative partial study are too multifaceted and complex to be adequately reproduced in a few paragraphs. (Reference must therefore be made to the various publications here.) In summary, it can only be said at this point that when viewed together, both parts of the study are able to provide an extremely dense picture of the everyday reality of the so-called extraordinary experiences. Investigations of this special area of ​​experience can, against the background of this investigation, in future be based on three empirically secured basic assumptions: (1) Extraordinary experiences may be rare for the individual, but they are extremely widespread in the population - and in this sense everyday. (2) The ideas and interpretations dealing with such experiences belong, even if they are not conveyed within the framework of institutional educational processes, to the solid corpus of everyday knowledge in German society thanks to mass media, popular culture and everyday communication. (3) The status of the 'extraordinary' does not result from the rarity or unfamiliarity of the phenomena, but from a specific societal attribution of this space of knowledge and experience.

Summary: M. Schetsche (in collaboration with I. Schmied-Knittel)

Project Manager:
PD Dr. Michael Schetsche (since May 2002)
Prof. Dr. Johannes Mischo (until 2001)

Ina Schmied-Knittel, M.A.

Dipl.-Chem. Raffaella Deflorin, M.A. (until April 2002)

Dipl. Psych. Harriet Falkenhagen (until April 2001)


Eberhard Bauer & Michael Schetsche (eds.) (2003). Everyday miracles. Experiences with the supernatural. Scientific evidence. Würzburg: Ergon.

Deflorin, R. & Schmied, I. (2000): Paranormal experiences in the German population: Conception and realization of an empirical study. In F. Steinkamp (Ed.), Proceedings of Presented Papers: The Parapsychological Association 43rd Annual Convention, 86-98.