What do you believe? Full results from the Sunday Star-Times beliefs survey

Last updated 19:57 29/08/2008
By global standards, Kiwis are a rather sceptical bunch.

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The Sunday Star-Times beliefs survey

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LET ME guess. Your favourite number is 7, or at least it's one you rather like. And you read horoscopes from time to time, even though you don't really believe in them.

You knock on wood for luck when there are other people around, even though you know deep down it won't make any difference.

You're pretty confident that scientists are right when they say that the universe started with a big bang, that we evolved from simpler lifeforms and that global warming is probably caused by humans. Still, you suspect there could well be a God, that some people have the ability to predict the future, and that even after we die some part of us, a "soul" perhaps, persists.

So was that anywhere near accurate?

No? Then perhaps you're male, in which case ignore those bits about God, fortune-telling and the soul. Instead, you have a strong suspicion that there is life on other planets. Getting any closer?

This amateur mindreading trick comes to you courtesy of the Sunday Star-Times Believe It or Not survey an online questionnaire that drew responses from more than 5986 readers (although only 5690 entries were usable), and which reveals clearly which beliefs New Zealanders hold dearest.

From religion to the paranormal to Lotto numbers to superstitions, and all the way to implausible urban myths and absurd conspiracy theories, you ticked the boxes and revealed that, while by global standards, Kiwis are a rather sceptical bunch, there's always at least one taker, even for the weirdest of ideas such as the theory that rock`n'roll king Elvis Presley, far from dying of heart failure in his home in 1977 at the age of 42, in fact faked his own death. Some 180 people (a full 3.3% of respondents) said they thought the theory likely, and another 12.5% of you weren't sure.

Naturally, more mainstream ideas about religion, the paranormal and superstition had many more adherents: 40% of respondents believed in God and another 10% weren't sure; 38% either believed or were neutral about reincarnation; 33% reckoned there were actual cases of witchcraft.

Even more fascinating than what we believe is who believes.

Marc Wilson, the Victoria University psychology lecturer who developed the survey, predicted early on that women would believe in more stuff than men, a finding common to surveys conducted here and aboard.

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Sure enough, women had much higher levels of belief in both religious and paranormal phenomena, in conspiracy theories and urban myths and in adherence to superstitious behaviour. Almost 58% (but only 30% of men) believed it was possible to predict the future; 47% of women believe it was possible to communicate with the dead, but only 18% of men do.

Theories abound to explain this sex difference. Perhaps women are simply more open-minded and thus less likely to pooh-pooh unusual or unprovable beliefs. Maybe men are socialised to be more "rational" and "scientific" while women are socialised to be more emotional and subjective. Economists, psychologists and neurobiology experts have other pet theories, but the reason remains something of a mystery, says Wilson.

Marlene Marshall, who writes as a clairvoyant for New Idea magazine, agrees women are more open to the paranormal: 90% of callers to her 0900 psychic phone line are female. "They are, dare I say it, more feeling souls," says Marshall. "Females are more in tune with their bodies and their feelings."

There is an exception, though: men generally have greater enthusiasm for the possible existence of life on other planets, and the survey matched this: 72% of men were alien believers and 60% of women.

- Sunday Star Times

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