July 19, 2018

So, Why Do People Believe In Bigfoot Anyway?

Bigfoot illustration by Rick Spears

By Krissy Eliot
California Magazine

Relatively few people, in or out of the field of science, believe in Bigfoot. A purported Bigfoot sighting would likely be met with the same level of credulity as a discovery of Casper, Elvis, Tupac, or Santa Claus. With only 16 percent of Americans Bigfoot believers, you might just write them off as crazy. But contrary to popular assumption, folklore experts say, Bigfoot believers may not be as irrational as you’d think.

“It’s easy to assume … that people who believe in Bigfoot are being irrational in their belief,” says Lynne McNeill, Cal grad, folklore professor, and special guest on the reality TV show Finding Bigfoot. “But that’s really not true. People aren’t jumping to supernatural conclusions very often; people are being quite rational. It doesn’t mean they’re correct; it just means they’re thinking rationally.”

OK. So what are some reasons why people might rationalize a belief in Bigfoot?

Reason 1: They think they saw Sasquatch, and they want to prove to themselves and the world that they’re not “crazy.”

If a lifelong non-believer thinks she saw a furry man-beast with glowing red eyes rooting through her undies on a camping trip, then she’s going to have to grapple with that somehow. If she finds herself unable or unwilling to deny that it happened, then she’ll probably try to reconcile that unexplained experience with her otherwise logical life. This attempt at reconciliation, says Tok Thompson, UC Berkeley grad and professor of anthropology and communication at USC, is a pretty common tendency among humans.

“People want a belief system that is comprehensive and consistent, and if something in our belief system is inconsistent, we get cognitive dissonance—it bugs us,” Thompson says. “Because of this, we try to make sense of the seemingly fantastical by weaving it into our currently held perspective.”

A popular way of doing this is looking for scientific proof.

This, McNeill explains, is why many Bigfoot hunters are desperate to find tangible evidence to prove Sasquatch’s existence. It’s why reality shows like Finding Bigfoot have scientists tag along with amateurs on Sasquatch hunting excursions, and why the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO) has been collecting information on evidence and sightings since 1995. People hope that they’ll find evidence that will both satisfy the scientific method and validate their beliefs.

Grover Krantz, the Cal grad and first well-respected anthropologist to come out in support of the search for Sasquatch, is a great example. Though he never encountered Bigfoot himself, his review of the evidence led him to believe that the creature was real. He risked his entire career as a professor to accommodate his belief in the creature, including being turned down for promotions and grants, and nearly getting fired.

Though his dedication to the search may seem absurd, the practice of using science to reconcile a paranormal belief is surprisingly common.

If you’ve owned a television over the last couple of decades you might have seen at least one episode of Ghost Hunters, a show in which people use doodads like digital EMF meters, ambient thermometers, and lures soaked with primate pheromones to collect “scientific” evidence of spirits. The show has been going strong since 2004, and with almost half of Americans admitting to a belief in ghosts, this isn’t surprising. Then there’s Graham Hancock, a controversial journalist, who leads the charge of people looking for proof that advanced ancient civilizations existed 12,000 years ago, an idea that 55 percent of Americans believe to be true despite scientific protestations against it.

According to these statistics, at least every other person walking among us believes in ghosts or ancient civilizations. And knowing how people react to survey questions, McNeill says, there are likely more believers in all of these (so-called) myths, including Bigfoot, than the data lets on.

“It’s really easy for us to imagine that belief is an either/or proposition—you either believe in something or you don’t. And that’s really not the case. Polls are always asking people whether or not they believe in aliens or ghosts. But the thing is, if their only options for an answer are yes or no, then they know what the right answer is—the right answer is no,” McNeill says. “But if you give people more room and ask them to talk about their beliefs, what you find is a grey area that most people are existing in, where they say, ‘Well, you know, I haven’t seen hard proof myself … but I have a really good friend or family member or someone I trust who has seen Bigfoot.’ Or they’ll say, ‘Well, I don’t believe in this stuff, but—I did see Bigfoot one time.’”

Because so few Americans publicly claim to believe in Bigfoot, these kind of answers allow people to express the variations in their beliefs while protecting themselves from potential ostracization.

Ironically, another reason people might believe in Bigfoot is that it would put them at odds with their community if they didn’t believe.
Reason 2: Their tribe believes in Sasquatch, so it would be weird if they didn’t.

Studies show that a person is more likely to believe in fringe or paranormal ideas if they’re a West Coast resident—with California largely being known as Bigfoot country. And according to the BFRO, over 430 sightings have been reported in the state since the 1940s.

“Bigfoot represents the Pacific Northwest in a huge way. It’s been taken up as emblematic of the area,” Thompson says. “You’ve got Sasquatch festivals. You’ve got Bigfoot statues. It’s almost like you should believe in Bigfoot at least a little bit if you live that area … like cultural pride or patriotism.”

If you liked what you read here, check out our story about academics who say evidence of Sasquatch might deserve to be studied.

Also check out our two-part profile on UC Berkeley grad and anthropologist Grover Krantz, known to many as the original “Bigfoot scientist.” (You can find the first part of the profile here and the second part here.)

Read the rest of the article here.

About Craig Woolheater
Co-founder of Cryptomundo in 2005. I have appeared in or contributed to the following TV programs, documentaries and films: OLN's Mysterious Encounters: "Caddo Critter", Southern Fried Bigfoot, Travel Channel's Weird Travels: "Bigfoot", History Channel's MonsterQuest: "Swamp Stalker", The Wild Man of the Navidad, Destination America's Monsters and Mysteries in America: Texas Terror - Lake Worth Monster, Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot: Return to Boggy Creek and Beast of the Bayou.

Filed under Bigfoot, Bigfoot Report, Cryptozoologists, Cryptozoology, Evidence, Sasquatch