- Luis Cayetano
Important psychology-related chapter from the book "The UFO Invasion" (1997)
Updated: Aug 9, 2022
The following chapter comes from the book "The UFO Invasion - The Roswell Incident, Alien Abductions, and Government Coverups" (edited by Kendrick Frazier, Barry Karr, and Joe Nickell; 1997; Prometheus Books; ISBN: 1573921319), which is a fantastic resource for anyone wanting to understand the skeptical position on UFOs and alien abduction claims, as well as the Roswell myth. I consider these articles to be so important that I would strongly urge everyone reading this to purchase a copy of the book (see the link above for purchasing options). Initially I had shared here the entire section "Part 5" of the book, spanning multiple chapters, but due to copyright restrictions and the fact that the book is still in print, I've had to limit this article to a single short chapter. Part 5, however, covers issues ranging from fantasy proneness, the inappropriateness of hypnotherapy as a tool for investigating alien abductions and the like (especially given the potential to do tremendous harm to patients), the role of hypnogogic and hypnopompic hallucinations, and many other related psychological topics that relate to the UFO and alien genre.
30. DIAGNOSES OF ALIEN KIDNAPPINGS THAT RESULT FROM CONJUNCTION EFFECTS IN MEMORY
Robyn M. Dawes and Matthew Mulford
Events and feelings may be better recalled when they occur in combination than singly, to the point that a conjunction of two alleged events or feelings may be judged to have occurred with greater frequency in one's life than one of them alone. One part of a conjunction can facilitate recall of the conjunction, and hence of another part of the experience - and combinations of events can be judged to be more probable than their components (Tversky and Kahneman 1983). The observer to whom it is reported, however, knows that such a conjunction is necessarily less probable than any one of its components. Thus, the observer may attach special significance to such a conjunction.
For example, in supporting a conclusion that post-traumatic stress from kidnapping by aliens is a major mental health problem in this country (allegedly affecting at least 2 percent of the population), Hopkins and Jacobs (1992) cite the rate of affirmative responses to a recent Roper Poll question: "How often has this happened to you: Waking up paralyzed with a sense of a strange person or presence or something else in the room?" Their rationale for considering affirmative responses particularly diagnostic of alien kidnapping involves the conjunction of the two components in the question: "A fleeting sensation of paralysis is not unusual in either hypnogogic or hypnopompic states, but adding the phrase 'with a sense of a strange person or presence in the room forcefully narrows the scope of the question” (p. 56).
As part of a (much) larger study, we asked that same Roper Poll question of 144 subjects (mainly
University of Oregon students and some townspeople interested in the $20 pay for two hours). Forty percent answered that this had happened to them at least once. A randomly selected control group of 144 subjects in the same study were asked simply how often they remembered waking up paralyzed. Only 14 percent answered that this had happened to them at least once, (chi-square = 24.26; p <.001, phi = .29). (See table 1.) The contingency was stronger for women (phi = .44) than for men (phi = .17), significantly so according to a Goodman-Plackett chi-square value of 4.74. Nevertheless it was significant for both sexes (with chi-squares of 25.38 and 4.43, respectively).
Thus, due to a conjunction effect in memory, the added phrase "with a sense of a strange person or presence ... in the room" actually "broadens the scope" of the question, rather than narrowing it. Hopkins and Jacobs are, of course, correct in maintaining that the additional phrase should "narrow the scope." It's just that the phrase doesn't. What they have discovered, therefore, is evidence not of alien kidnappings, but of a common irrationality in the way we recall our lives.
Hopkins, B., and D. M. Jacobs. 1992. "How This Survey Was Designed." In Bigelow Holding Company, An Analysis of the Data from Three Major Surveys Conducted by the Roper Organization, 55-58.
Tversky, A., and D. Kahneman. 1983. "Extensional versus Intuitive Reasoning: The Conjunction Fallacy in Probability Judgments." Psychological Review 90: 293-315.