True-believer syndrome

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True-believer syndrome
Coined by M. Lamar Keene (1976)
Definition The condition of continuing to believe a paranormal event/phenomenon after it has been debunked
Signature Belief continues without grounds or base

True-believer syndrome is an informal or rhetorical term used by M. Lamar Keene in his 1976 book The Psychic Mafia. Keene used the term to refer to people who continued to believe in a paranormal event or phenomenon even after it had been proven to have been staged.[1][2] Keene considered it to be a cognitive disorder,[3][4] and regarded it as being a key factor in the success of many psychic mediums.[2]

The term "true believer" was used earlier by Eric Hoffer in his 1951 book The True Believer to describe the psychological roots of fanatical groups.



In his book The Psychic Mafia, Keene told of his partner, a psychic medium named "Raoul" in the book. Some in their congregation still believed that Raoul was genuine even after he openly admitted that he was a fake. Keene wrote "I knew how easy it was to make people believe a lie, but I didn't expect the same people, confronted with the lie, would choose it over the truth. ... No amount of logic can shatter a faith consciously based on a lie."[1][5]


According to The Skeptic's Dictionary, an example of this syndrome is evidenced by an event in 1988 when James Randi, at the request of an Australian news program, coached stage performer José Alvarez to pretend he was channelling a two-thousand-year-old spirit named "Carlos". Even after it was revealed to be a fictional character created by Randi and Alvarez, many people continued to believe that "Carlos" was real.[4] Randi commented: "no amount of evidence, no matter how good it is or how much there is of it, is ever going to convince the true believer to the contrary."[6]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Lamar, Keene, M. (1976). The Psychic Mafia. St. Martin's Press; New York
  2. ^ a b Lamar and Sgragett, p.151
  3. ^ Davis, W. Sumer. Just Smoke and Mirrors: Religion, Fear and Superstition in Our Modern World. pp. 11–12. ISBN 0-595-26523-5. 
  4. ^ a b "true believer syndrome". Skeptic's Dictionary. Retrieved 2007-08-19. 
  5. ^ Lamar and Spraggett, pp.141–151
  6. ^ ABC News (1998-10-06) "The Power of Belief: How Our Beliefs Can Impact Our Minds", ABC News (2007-06-04)


  • Keene, M. Lamar and Spraggett, Allen (1997) The Psychic Mafia, Prometheus Books, ISBN 1-57392-161-0

Further reading

  • Hall, Harriet A., (2006). "Teaching Pigs to Sing: An Experiment in Bringing Critical Thinking to the Masses", Skeptical Inquirer, Vol 30, #3, May/June 2006, pp. 36–39
  • Lalich, Janja. Bounded Choice: True Believers and Charismatic Cults. University of California Press, 2004. ISBN 0-520-23194-5
  • Raymo, Chet. Skeptics and True Believers: The Exhilarating Connection Between Science and Religion. Walker Publishing, 1998. ISBN 0-8027-1338-6
  • Singer, Barry and Benassi, Victor A., (1980). "Fooling Some of the People All of the Time", Skeptical Inquirer, Vol 5, #2, Winter 1980/81, pp. 17–24