So, Why Do People Believe In Bigfoot Anyway?

Posted by: Craig Woolheater on July 19th, 2018

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.

4 Responses to “So, Why Do People Believe In Bigfoot Anyway?”

  1. Becho responds:

    Last year I took two of my great nephews on a road trip to introduce them to my forest friends. One of those nephews saw a ten foot male in a creek bed while we crossed a bridge. I saw it as well and kept my mouth shut about it. It was two days later when my nephew finally said “I didn’t say anything when it happened, but I think I saw a bigfoot…” I immediately said “Of course you saw a bigfoot, I saw it too.” It is hard to miss a ten foot being in the middle of an opening when he was less than fifty yards away. Why did he say “I think…” That would come from cultural pressure. I’m sure his father thinks I am full of it when I talk about bigfoot. Now he and the others in my family have to deal with two people in the family who have seen bigfoot. That makes me laugh a little and gives me some satisfaction after all I’ve had to put up with within and without the family. Cognitive dissonance is alive and healthy within us all. I still, sometimes, reject evidence that I later realize was produced by those mysterious beings in the forest.

  2. springheeledjack responds:

    I find it interesting if over half of those polled believe in ancient advanced civilizations in play 12,000 years ago but only 16% believe in bigfoot. Of course polls are what they are.

    I can only speak to one person–me. I’ve been reading and looking into crypto for a chunk of my childhood and all of my adult life. I’ve never seen a BF or any other cryptid (though I’ve had a couple of strange encounters–but in only one case did I see something and I still can’t convince myself it was an actual cryptid…only a possibility). So why do I pursue these things, BF in particular? I know . . . at least four people who have had some kind of encounter, three of which have seen a bipedal creature that wasn’t a bear or dog or whatever the favorite misidentification the scoftics like to use these days.

    But I was interested in this stuff long before any of those encounters happened. For BF, I read the reports coming out of the BFRO each year as well as other sources and I can’t toss all of them off as misidentifications and hallucinations and imagination. If BF were just mythology and such, you would see a significant rise and fall in sightings based on popular culture. But that’s not the case.

    I think we’ve seen a blossom in sightings in recent years for several reasons:

    1) with the age of the internet (you mean there was a time without internet???) people of like minds have found there are others out there who’ve had similar encounters. And on the internet there are forums to talk about it–with a certain amount of anonymity.

    2) With TV programs, the internet and more interconnectedness overall, people are more willing to talk about these encounters. Just look at the BFRO site and you’ll see people coming forward with sightings that happened decades ago, but these people had no one to talk about these encounters with. It’s just now we’re really beginning to see how many people have actually encountered these creatures.

    3) The P/G film definitely launched Bf into the public. Debate it all you will, but for my money I accept it as legit. I’ve read all of the arguments on both side of the issue and the naysayers can’t come up with the goods to sway me into believing it was some joker in a suit.

    4) BF has mainstreamed to the point where people can openly talk about encounters without being ridiculed. I don’t talk about crypto with everyone, but I find more and more people open to the ideas in recent years, much more so than even ten years ago.

    Why believe in BF? Between the sheer amount of steady accounts which continue to come in each year, the tracks and casts, and the culmination of everything I’ve read and studied, it’s much more plausible to believe there is an undiscovered bipedal something out there. It is logical to me that we are looking at a cryptid which exists.

    For those who think it’s all bunk and the people who do are fools, be my guest. You are welcome to your opinion just like I am mine.

    However, don’t ask me to prove it to you. If you’re not swayed by everything I mentioned above, arguing with you isn’t going to sway you to my perspective. And frankly, I don’t care–you’re free to believe what you want. I trust my logic based on the information I have.

    Me, I’m spending my time working toward having a sighting and going from there.

  3. Fhqwhgads responds:

    I saw a UFO once, and it scared the crap out of me — in part because I had mocked the idea of flying saucers before. But about 15 years ago, I stepped out into my front yard in Texas and saw, apparently hovering over a stand of trees about a mile away, something that looked just like the classic flying saucer. Part of me wanted to go hide, but I would not have been able to live with myself if I had. So I stood there and watched. It soon became apparent that the saucer was slowly moving in my direction. After a minute or two, I heard that it was making a buzzing sound. And then, suddenly, I saw it for what it was: a motorized paraglider with a lighted canopy. In the twilight, only the canopy had been visible.

    What does that prove? Nothing much. I know that if I had been unable or unwilling to watch long enough, this flying object would have remained an UNIDENTIFIED flying object, but that does not really prove that all other honest reports of UFOs are misidentifications (though my initial objections to them still stand). And I have a better appreciation for what it feels like to witness something you can’t quite believe.

  4. Fhqwhgads responds:

    I should also point out that my late brother claimed to have seen Bigfoot sometime in the early 1980’s near our home in Overstreet, FL. Like me, he was blessed with a powerful imagination, and at some point he claimed to have seen Santa and his sleigh flying overhead, so I didn’t take his sighting particularly seriously, and although the last time I spoke to him about this he was no longer sure exactly what he saw, he still wondered what it was, exactly. That is where I have to leave it. I have no particular reason to respect any of your opinions, nor you mine, but I respect the heck out of my brother, particularly his thoughts as an adult. Consequently, I do not believe, but I question. I question skeptically, but I question.

Sorry. Comments have been closed.

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