Many people believe in and use so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) to address health issues or prevent diseases. Empirical evidence for those treatments is either lacking or controversial due to methodological weaknesses. Thus, practitioners and patients primarily rely on subjective references rather than credible empirical evidence from systematic research.

This study investigated whether cognitive and personality factors explain differences in belief in SCAM and homeopathy. The researchers, German psychologists, investigated the robustness of 21 predictors when examined together to obtain insights into key determinants of such beliefs in a sample of 599 participants (60% female, 18-81 years). A combination of predictors explained 20% of the variance in SCAM belief:

  • ontological confusions,
  • spiritual epistemology,
  • agreeableness,
  • death anxiety,
  • gender.

Approximately 21% of the variance in belief in homeopathy was explained by the following predictors:

  • ontological confusions,
  • illusory pattern perception,
  • need for cognitive closure,
  • need for cognition,
  • honesty-humility,
  • death anxiety,
  • gender,
  • age.

The autors concluded that individuals believing in SCAM and homeopathy have cognitive biases and certain individual differences which make them perceive the world differently. 

The authors argue that a key characteristic of many SCAM treatments is the spiritual orientation to knowledge and decision-making. For medical decisions, individuals who agree that important knowledge results from religious or spiritual experiences might not rely on evidence as a proof of efficiency but rather explain it in terms of personal experiences. One primary reason for the use of homeopathy is having had good experiences in the past. Own experiences have a high value and persuasive power but are meaningless from a scientific point of view.

Paranormal beliefs and SCAM belief do not only share ontological confusions as a predictor, paranormal beliefs are typically the best predictor of CAM belief. However, comparing those belief forms, it becomes clear that they share many concepts and approaches to explain reality in an unscientific way. Therefore, both belief forms, paranormal beliefs and SCAM beliefs, could also be seen as a result of a world view in which scientific evidence is valued less and, instead, emotional and spiritual explanations are consulted.

I think that anyone who has followed the discussions on this blog must agree wholeheartedly.

One Response to Individuals believing in so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) and homeopathy have cognitive biases

  • This study is among the most hilarious I have read these days:

    “Furthermore, numerous reviews and meta-analyses converge in showing that there is no empirical evidence that homeopathic remedies have any effect beyond the level of the control group [28-33]. Rather, placebo effects are considered the most obvious cause of the effects experienced following homeopathic treatments [3, 32-34].”

    3. Anlauf M, Hein L, Hense HW, Köbberling J, Lasek R, Leidl R, et al. Complementary and alternative drug therapy versus science-oriented medicine. German medical science: GMS e-journal. 2015;13(Doc5). pmid:26161049
    28. Mathie RT, Ramparsad N, Legg LA, Clausen J, Moss S, Davidson JRT, et al. 28.-Surgery. Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of non-individualized homeopathic treatment: systematic review and meta-analysis. Systematic Reviews. 2017;6(1):63. pmid:28340607
    29.Linde K, Clausius N, Ramirez G, Melchart D, Eitel F, Hedges LV, et al. Are the clinical effects of homeopathy placebo effects? A meta-analysis of placebo-controlled trials. Lancet. 1997;350(9081):834–843. pmid:9310601
    View ArticlePubMed/NCBIGoogle Scholar

    30.Linde K, Melchart D. Randomized controlled trials of individualized homeopathy: a state-of-the-art review.
    31.Kleijnen J, Knipschild P, ter Riet G. Clinical trials of homoeopathy. BMJ (Clinical research ed). 19
    32. Shang A, Huwiler-Müntener K, Nartey L, Jüni P, Dörig S, Sterne JAC, et al. Are the clinical effects of homoeopathy placebo effects? Comparative study of placebo-controlled trials of homoeopathy and allopathy. The Lancet. 2005;366(9487):726–732. pmid:16125589
    View ArticlePubMed/NCBIGoogle Scholar
    33.National Health and Medical Research Council. NHMRC information paper: Evidence on the effectiveness of homeopathy for treating health conditions. National Health and Medical Research Council; 2015.

    34.Markun S, Maeder M, Rosemann T, Djalali S. Beliefs, endorsement and application of homeopathy disclosed: a survey among ambulatory care physicians. Swiss medical weekly. 2017;147:w14505. pmid:29039627

    I find the study hilarious because it reflects that the psychologist authors did not even read the literature they cite, since if you restrict everything to just reviews (in bold), well most of the trials are positive, except for Shang et al, the NHRMC and in neutral term the Mathie et al 2017 one. Why did the authors decide not to cite the 2014 Mathie et al? Anyway, already Hamre et al showed that Shang et al and Linde et al 1998 are meta-analyses of low quality and high risk of bias. So the two psychologists fall, ironically, into the same bias they claim to denounce of those who use homeopathy. It is obvious that the premise from which the two psychologists start is wrong (that “homeopathy can have no effect other than placebo”), their study has no validity.

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