Psychology Wiki

True-believer syndrome is a term coined 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]

Eric Hoffer used the term true believer in his first book, published in 1951, which explored the nature of fanaticism and mass-movements in the political context.

Keene considered it to be a cognitive disorder,[3][4] and regarded it as being a key factor in the success of many mediums.[2] The term "true believer syndrome" is not used professionally by psychologists, psychiatrists, or medical professionals and is not recognised as a form of psychopathology or psychological impairment, nor is it listed in any version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [5].



In his book The Psychic Mafia, Keene tells of a psychic medium named Raoul. Some people 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."[6][7]


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 2000 year old spirit named "Carlos". Even after it was revealed to be a fictional character created by himself and Alvarez, 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."[8]

419 scam

Article 419 frauds, also known as advance fee fraud, involve individuals inveigling others to give them their bank details, supposedly in order to make a large deposit, but actually in order to drain the account. Anti-419 activists refer to those who sometimes continue to believe in the good faith of the fraudsters as "true believers".[9]

See also



  1. Keene, M. Lamar (1976). The Psychic Mafia. St. Martin's Press; New York
  2. 2.0 2.1 Keene M. Lamar, Spraggett Allen (1997) The Psychic Mafia, Prometheus Books, ISBN 1-57392-161-0. page 151
  3. W. Sumer Davis. Just Smoke and Mirrors: Religion, Fear and Superstition in Our Modern World, 11–12.
  4. 4.0 4.1 true believer syndrome. Skeptic's Dictionary. URL accessed on 2007-08-19.
  5. DSM-IV (1994); published by the American Psychiatric Association, Washington D.C.
  6. Keene, M. Lamar and Allen Spraggett (1997) The Psychic Mafia, Prometheus Books, ISBN 1-57392-161-0. pp. 141-51
  7. Keene, M. Lamar (1976). The Psychic Mafia. St. Martin's Press; New York.
  8. ABC News (1998-10-06) "The Power of Belief: How Our Beliefs Can Impact Our Minds"], ABC News (2007-06-04)

Further reading

  • Harriet Hall, (2006). Teaching Pigs to Sing: An Experiment in Bringing Critical Thinking to the Masses, Skeptical Inquirer, Vol 30, #3, May/June 2006, 36-39.
  • Barry Singer and Victor A. Benassi, (1980). Fooling some of the People All of the Time, Skeptical Inquirer, Vol 5, #2, Winter 1980/81, 17-24.
  • Lalich, Janja. Bounded Choice: True Believers and Charismatic Cults. University of California Press, 2004. ISBN 0-520-23194-5. 329 pp.
  • Chet Raymo. Skeptics and True Believers: The Exhilarating Connection Between Science and Religion. Walker Publishing, 1998. ISBN 0-8027-1338-6. 288 pp.