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Perception of supernatural beings, inspired by perception of ordinary beings: proves study

Waterloo: Existence of supernatural beings and their character have always been a topic of debate since time immemorial. Cartoons and folktales have played a huge role in reinstating the existing superstitions and beliefs of people. However, a recent study proves that,  people’s beliefs about supernatural beings, such as good and evil characters, are highly  influenced by their views of normal humans around themselves.


A study conducted from the University of Waterloo, found that what becomes obvious in comedies and cartoons, when a character has a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other is not very different  from people’s perceptions of the real world. The study points out that the moral character and motives of the supernatural beings are obvious. Intended to illustrate the characters’ decision-making dilemma with comedic results, people have similar expectations when it comes to individuals they comprehend as good or bad.


The researchers surveyed the prospects about how good and evil individuals respond to requests. The researchers were also concerned in understanding why movies and folktales often depict the devil and demons as eager to grant accidental requests, whereas angel were hardly depicted in such situations. The study indicated that people’s beliefs about good and evil characters are influenced by their actual views and perceptions  of ordinary humans.


Ori Friedman, a developmental psychology professor at Waterloo and lead author, explains further about the study:  ‘Our results suggest people expect good agents will be sensitive to intentions behind requests whereas they expect evil individuals will be relatively insensitive to these intentions. ‘These findings shape people’s expectations about requests directed both to regular humans and to supernatural agents’.


The study revealed that people have distinct ideas of how being good or bad, influences the decisions of others. People often assume that evil individuals are indifferent about anything,  that doesn’t directly impact their own aims. These findings support previous research in suggesting that, at least some of people’s day to day beliefs about supernatural beings could be based on their views of fellow beings.


‘One aspect of seeing someone as evil might be that we expect that person to put less emphasis on the intentions of others, and instead focus more on the outcome of people’s actions,’ says Brandon Goulding,  a PhD candidate in developmental psychology and co-author of this study. ‘Whereas we think that a good person will also consider what someone meant to do, and weigh that against what they actually did,’ He added.


Researchers investigated people’s expectations about good and evil agents with five experiments. In the study, 2,231 participants were made to read short stories about a protagonist’s request to either a human or supernatural being,  and rated the likelihood of the request to be granted. When the request was directed to someone good, ratings depended on whether the requester actually understood what the requests meant.  On the other hand, evil individuals were expected to grant requests just as often when they were confused and didn’t replicate the requester’s intentions.


‘This research tells us something very interesting about how people view good and evil, which is that people don’t just think that evil agents focus exclusively on causing harm. Instead, people relate evil to being indifferent and to not caring about what people want. It also suggests that people think moral goodness is about more than producing good outcomes. People also see moral goodness as being connected with caring about what people want and intend,’ Friedman concludes his findings.



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