Effect of restriction of working memory on reported paranormal belief: Genuine effect or acquiescent response style artefact?
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Dudley (1999) reported that participants who were given a working memory task to do as they completed the Revised Paranormal Belief Scale (RPBS, Tobacyk and Milford, 1983; Tobacyk, 2004) reported higher levels of paranormal belief than control participants. Dudley (1999) suggested that the working memory task restricted participants’ critical thinking abilities, rendering them less able to critically evaluate paranormal phenomena. However, the RPBS includes only one negatively-worded item, a feature which may have encouraged respondents to adopt an acquiescent response style. The present study replicated Dudley’s (1999) study to further establish if there is any effect of restriction of working memory on reported paranormal belief. The study also use an amended version of the RPBS (A-RPBS) to investigate whether Dudley’s (1999) results may have arisen from participants in the working memory condition adopting an acquiescent response style more readily than control participants. Participants were tested using a 2 x 2 between subjects design and analysis comprised of a two-way independent ANOVA and post-hoc T-Tests. Results indicated that participants in the working memory test condition did not report significantly different paranormal belief scores from participants in the questionnaire-only condition [F(1, 116) = 0.34, p = 0.56]. However, an almost-significant interaction effect was reported between questionnaire type and working memory task condition [F(1,116) = 3.55, p = 0.06]. Only in the working memory task condition did questionnaire type have a significant effect on paranormal belief scores. Participants completing the A-RPBS reported significantly higher paranormal belief scores than those completing the RPBS [t (58) = 2.164, p = 0.035]. Results did not support the proposal that Dudley’s (1999) findings were due to the RPBS encouraging participants to adopt an acquiescent response style and failed to replicate a significant effect of restriction of working memory on reported paranormal belief. Various suggestions are made as to why present findings proved inconsistent with Dudley’s (1999) results and future research recommendations are made.