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Americans believe in ghosts, ancient aliens and Atlantis, but not Bigfoot, study finds

Alien dummies model t-shirts for sale along with other extraterrestrial-themed souvenirs at the Little A'Le'Inn, located nine miles up the road from the military testing base known as Area 51, in Rachel, Nev., Aug. 20, 2013.
Alien dummies model t-shirts for sale along with other extraterrestrial-themed souvenirs at the Little A'Le'Inn, located nine miles up the road from the military testing base known as Area 51, in Rachel, Nev., Aug. 20, 2013. New York Times

Americans are into freaky stuff.

At least when it comes to the unexplained and the supernatural, a new study from Chapman University revealed.

The vast majority of Americans believe in some kind of paranormal activity - nearly three in every four people, the study found. Most believe in more than one phenomenon.

Researchers identified seven different paranormal phenomenon and asked respondents whether they agreed with statements like “Places can be haunted by spirits” and “Aliens have visited Earth in our ancient past.”

The most common belief among Americans is that ancient, advanced civilizations -- like the lost city of Atlantis -- once existed. Ask two people if they believe in Atlantis, and at least one of them will probably say yes.

The other most common belief is in ghosts; more than half of Americans believe that places can be haunted by spirits.

More people believe that aliens visited Earth in our early days (35 percent) than believe they are visiting us now (26 percent), the study found, though a separate study from Ipsos found that eight in 10 people believe in life on other planets, and more than half believe that UFOs have visited Earth.

So what were some of the things Americans were most skeptical about?

Well, Bigfoot is having a pretty rough go of it. On the 50th anniversary of the first famous video of him, only 16 percent of Americans say they believe Bigfoot is a real creature.

Not too many people believe in psychics or telekinesis (moving objects with the mind) either, but if you ask, about one in five will still say they think it’s possible.

So is there evidence for any of these beliefs? Mostly, no.

Atlantis, for example, is widely accepted by researchers as nothing more than a fictional nation the Greek philosopher Plato used to illustrate some of his arguments about power, National Geographic reported. And despite the fact that nearly everyone now carries a camera and recorder with them at all times through their phones, convincing evidence of ghosts hasn’t appeared yet, reported Live Science.

As for psychics and telekinesis, the former magician James Randi offered a $1 million prize to anyone who could demonstrate psychic skills in a scientific setting. Nobody did, and hardly anyone even attempted it.

Aliens are a little trickier. Though there hasn’t been much evidence of aliens actually visiting the Earth in UFOs (an exhaustive study in the 1960s of nearly 13,000 UFO sightings found no evidence any of them were alien vessels), some scientists believe it’s a statistical certainty that they exist, and Frank Drake, an astrophysicist and astronomer, even devised a formula for determining how many intelligent civilizations may exist in a given area of space. Still, we haven’t found anything yet.

And though ghosts and abductions and monsters are known for being spooky, and the data was collected as part of a study on Americans’ fears, it turns out paranormal activity doesn’t even come close to the top 10 (or even top 50) things that scare people the most.

So what was the number-one fear? Government corruption — the spookiest phenomenon of all.

From Friday the 13th to broken mirrors to black cats, here are 13 spooky superstitions that are most common among Americans.

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