Media reports of the paranormal appears to sway people's beliefs in the supernatural (Paranormal Activity 4/IMDB)
As Halloween approaches, so too will a number of ghoulish stories. However, whether or not we believe these tales may be due largely to how they are reported.
A study by Paul Brewer, professor of communication at the University of Delaware, looked at what makes people believe, or not believe, in ghost stories.
According to a 2009 survey by think tank Theos, one in four people in the UK believe in ghosts, with Londoners being the most likely to believe in the supernatural.
Brewer's experiment involved asking participants to reading one of four versions of a newspaper article about paranormal investigators.
"It wasn't just any story about paranormal investigators that made people believe in ghosts and haunted houses. It was a story about how they were scientific," he said.
One story described the scientific approach to the investigators work, including use of instruments. One method involved the use of an electromagnetic field detector, which located sources of electricity.
People in this group were more likely to say the investigators were scientific and credible, and that they believed in the paranormal.
However, another version of the same article included a paragraph at the end, in which a professor debunks the investigators' expertise. This group was swayed by the opposing viewpoint and doubted the investigators' credibility.
"What the media can do, the media can take away," Brewer said.
The professor told IB Times UK that he does not believe in ghosts himself: "I'm a sceptic when it comes to the paranormal because I haven't seen any persuasive evidence that paranormal phenomena exists, or any compelling theoretical explanation for why they would."
"Having said that, the point of my study wasn't to say anything about whether paranormal phenomena exist but rather to shed light on why people believe - or disbelieve - in such phenomena.
"Based on my own research and studies conducted by other researchers looking at paranormal beliefs, I believe that media messages play an important role in encouraging public fascination with -and belief in - ghosts and haunted houses.
"These have always been popular topics for movies, television shows and popular literature, and they seem to be especially popular now."
This popularity has been confirmed in this week's box office chart. In its opening weekend, Paranormal Activity 4 reached the top spot of the US Box Office chart, while it reached the second position in the UK. So far it has grossed £19,697,910.
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