Lilly MacDonald ’17, Lyssa Test ’16, Emily Utter ’16
For our survey, we polled a total of 77 college-age students from Washington and Lee University and 10 other schools. The purpose of our survey was to compare beliefs of ghosts and the supernatural across religious affiliations, birth month, gender, and college universities. Our survey consisted of 11 questions: (1) Sex, (2) Date of Birth, (3) What college do/did you attend?, (4) Major(s) and Minor(s), (5) Religious Affiliation, (6) Do you believe in life after death?, (7) How do you define “supernatural”?, (8) Do you believe in the supernatural?, (9) Have you had a supernatural experience?, (10) Did you classify ghosts as supernatural?, and (11) Do you believe in ghosts?. We used Google Forms to send out our survey.
As stated above, our sample consisted of 77 college-ages students. Within our sample, there were 58 female and 19 male participants. The females and males of this survey represented a wide range of universities. In total there were 11 Universities in this survey; 55 of the students study at Washington and Lee University, while 22 attended other colleges: Middlebury College, Stony Brook University, Georgetown University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Pittsburgh, Davidson College, United States Naval Academy, Boston University, Temple University, and Ursinus College. Additionally, there was a large variety in religious preferences among the respondents; in total there were 16 religions, with the two largest religious being Christian and Agnostic.
Overall, we found that a majority of our respondents believe in life after death and the supernatural and that these statistics are the same – 66.2% (33.8% saying no). The similarity between these statistics makes sense because both have to do with belief in something more than visible and understandable. When we asked participants whether or not they believed in ghosts, 36.4% responded “no” and 63.7% responded “yes” or “undecided”. This increase in people outright saying “no” could be caused by the Protestant claim that purgatory does not exist, but that any supernatural existence is due to angels or demons, not ghosts. We did have some Protestant respondents who probably account for this change. 24.7% of our respondents had a supernatural experience and these experiences range from ghostly encounters, to general senses of negative auras, to seeing or sensing deceased family members. Overall, our results showed that many people had personal supernatural experiences and many still believe in the existence and possibility of the supernatural and ghosts.
W&L v. other colleges
Comparing responses from other schools to those of Washington and Lee show us interesting things about our student’s beliefs. 72% of Washington and Lee students believe in life after death, while only 50% of those at other schools do. This large gap also appears in the responses to our question on the existence of the supernatural – 71% of Washington and Lee students responding yes and 55% of other students doing so. As shown before these questions are linked because they have to do with unexplainable phenomenon. The slight difference in numbers then is strange but could have to do with religion, many answering that they are agnostic or atheist and therefore have different beliefs in the afterlife than other religions. This could be one of the causes for the change. When asked if participants had a supernatural experience similar numbers of people responded yes, 25% of Washington and Lee Students and 23% of students from other schools. This is important to note because even though they have similar percentages of personal encounters many more Washington and Lee students believe in the supernatural. When asked about the existence of ghosts, Washington and Lee and other students had similar “yes” responses, 38% and 41% respectively. More students from other schools also responded “no” to the questions roughly 45% versus 33%. The most interesting statistic from this questions is the relatively high percentage of undecided responses from Washington and Lee Students. Though it is the lowest of the three percentage wise, it is significant because compared to other schools many more students from Washington and Lee are undecided on their opinions on ghosts – 29% vs. 14%. This shows that when given the option Washington and Lee students are not as strong in their opinions as their peers at other schools. Though it is important to note that the number of students from school was a smaller pool so could skew the data.
To compare beliefs across different religions, we classified our respondents into three categories: Christians, Non-religious, and Other religions. Christians were the biggest believers in life after death, the supernatural, and ghost. Non-religious and Other religion responders were almost tied for their beliefs in life after death (70% and 72%, respectively, believed in the dead). Respondents practicing religions other than Christianity were next in line to believe in the supernatural, with 70% convinced in its existence. Non-religious people were the least likely to believe in the supernatural, as only 43% believed in these other worldly forces. Lastly, in terms of ghost beliefs, 33% of non-religious respondents believed in ghosts, 43% of Christian respondents, and 40% of respondents practicing other religions. Curiously, Christians has the highest percentage of undecided responses, with 32% voting they were unsure about the existence of ghosts.
In addition to comparing the different viewpoints of Washington and Lee students to students from outside schools, we also looked into the differences of female and male supernatural beliefs. What we found was that in general, females were more likely to believe in all supernatural occurrences than men. Firstly, 72% of women believe there is life after death, while only 53% of men hold this same belief. Furthermore, 72% of women believe in the supernatural, compared to only 47% of men. This gender gap is also present when asked if the participants have ever had a supernatural occurrence; 35% of females believe that they had, but only 5% of men believe the same. Consequently, when the participants were asked if they believe in ghosts, more females said yes (50%), then males (5%), and more males said no (58%), than females (29%). Interestingly though, the percentage for males who were “undecided” (37%) was higher than that of females (21%), which showcases that females are more resolute in their beliefs or disbeliefs than males. The only question were there was not a huge gender gap was when participants were asked if they would classify ghosts as a supernatural occurrence; 95% of women said yes, and 90% of males said yes. Therefore, we can see that overall there is a large gender gap in the belief in supernatural occurrences, this outcome, though, could be swayed by the fact that our sample had a higher percentage of females than males. This may have skewed the information to show a more drastic difference.
Another comparison we looked was to see if the month in which one was born has any effect on one’s beliefs in ghosts. The hypothesis was that people born in months with more Christian holidays, such as Easter, or supernatural based holidays, like Halloween, would be more likely to have belief in the supernatural/ghosts. What was found was that December babies had the highest percentage of believers within this sample. This may be due to the spiritual connection during this time of year, and the high percentage of Christians we had in this survey. Tied for second place with 50% were 5 months: January, April, May, June and October. Originally, we expected participants who were born in October to have a high percentage of ghost believers due to Halloween, therefore this result was not surprising. Additionally, with Easter sometimes taking place in April, and Christmas in December, we assumed these holidays might rub off on the beliefs of people born during these months.The other 3 months were very surprising though. Finally, we saw that the month with the lowest percentage of ghost believers was August, where no one believed ghost to be real.