Essay:Inventory of Fringe Beliefs

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Introduction[edit]

I have received tacit approval to move ahead with an interesting experiment looking at some potential neurological underpinnings of fringe beliefs. In order to do so I need to be able to score people's beliefs in fringe ideas along various dimensions. There are a few things out there that sort of do this, but they are woefully inadequate. I can think of no better group of people anywhere to help me establish a much more comprehensive scale for testing for fringe ideas than here on RationalWiki.

My initial idea is to look across four main dimensions:

  1. Medical (basic quackery, alternative medicine, vaccine hysteria, etc.)
  2. Pseudoscience (creationism, quantum woo, perpetual motion, etc.)
  3. Conspiracy (UFOs, tax protesters, New World Order, etc)
  4. Paranormal (psychics, ghosts, channelling, etc)

The inventory would likely be structured as a Likert scale, something along the lines of:

Horoscopes are a good source of information for predicting future events.
Do you: strongly disagree, disagree, agree, strongly agree

Background on experiment[edit]

I have been working a lot on the role of the neurotransmitter dopamine in learning and decision making. I have been developing and advocating for its role particularly in assessing salience and surprise in pattern detection. I have been working with several cognitive behavioural tests that correlate with differences in the base levels of dopamine in certain brain areas. People have different amounts, and those different amounts effect behaivour. I hypothesize that levels of endogenous dopamine in certain brain regions correlate with the tendency for people to latch on to fringe beliefs.