More than half of those taking part (52 per cent) said they believed in the supernatural, a marked increase on the two previous comparable studies, in 2009 and 2005, which both found a level of around 40 per cent.
The survey also found that one in five claimed to have had some sort of paranormal experience.
Interest in the supernatural has become big business in recent years, with the popularity of television shows like Most Haunted, which starred Yvette Fielding, and the spread of so-called “ghost walks” around supposedly haunted parts of city centres. English Heritage (EH) and the National Trust have both begun to attract people to their properties by identifying which ones are said to be occupied by ghosts, among them Blickling Hall, in Norfolk, Dunster Castle, in Somerset, and Dover Castle, in Kent. EH even conducted a “spectral stocktake” of “hauntings” and unexplained events recorded at its sites.
The new study was carried out for the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (Assap), for its annual conference.
Dave Wood, chairman of the group, which is dedicated to the study of a wide range of unexplained experiences – from supposed hauntings to UFO sightings – said: “The rise in the numbers believing in ghosts is a surprise, and is significantly higher than what we consider to have been the historical average.
“It could be that in a society which has seen economic uncertainty and is dominated by information and technology, more people are seeking refuge in the paranormal, whereas in the past they might have sought that in religion.”
Among notable personalities said to have encountered ghosts is Winston Churchill, who is on a long list of people reported to have seen an apparition of former US president Abraham Lincoln, in the White House.
But while belief in ghosts is rising, the study, conducted by polling company YouGov, suggests a fall in the numbers prepared to accept the existence of UFOs, from 52 per cent to 39 per cent, in 2008. The data also found that one in five claimed to have had some sort of paranormal experience.
Mr Wood added: “We have felt that a belief in UFOs has been declining for some time. I think a belief in ghosts is easier to sustain. Most people will know someone they respect who claims to have some sort of experience. That is no longer the case with UFOs.”
It comes at a time when Ufology – the study of UFOs – is said to be in decline. Last year, the Assap held a meeting to address the apparent crisis, and revealed that the number of its UFO cases had dropped by 96 per cent since 1988. In 2009, the Ministry of Defence closed its own UFO unit after ruling that, in more than 50 years of monitoring, it had found “no evidence” they pose a threat to the UK.
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