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Why do some of us believe in Tassie tiger sightings and others don’t?

Posted September 08, 2017 10:58:51

From Tasmanian tigers to Big Foot and the Loch Ness monster, we just love stories of sightings of mysterious creatures — whether we believe them or not.

News of recent footage claiming to show a Tasmanian tiger in the bush has spread far and wide, with people furiously debating what they think they can see in the film.

“I don’t think it’s a thylacine, I know it’s a thylacine,” Adrian Richardson, part of the trio who obtained the footage, said.

For Mr Richardson, there is no doubt in his mind that this film shows a living Tasmanian tiger.

But wildlife expert Nick Mooney said of the same footage that it was most likely a spotted quoll.

So what makes some people believe in something so strongly when others around them do not?

“There’s a component of expectation and component of illusion in things,” clinical psychologist Sabina Lane told Helen Shield on ABC Radio Hobart.

“The expectation one is really important — if you expect to see something it is more likely you will see it.”

But Ms Lane said that’s only part of it.

She said we also decide what we have experienced is X, for example, depending on our beliefs as well as our previous experiences and influences.

“We all as individuals decide on how likely we are to believe in something that we cannot see.

“We all decide whether we believe in something or not.”

For many people, deciding whether they will believe in something is based on scientific evidence.

For example, most people believe in gravity even though they do not understand what it really is.

“We can’t see air but we know it’s there,” Ms Lane said.

But evidence can also be subjective.

Cryptozoology is the term for the field of study and pursuit of hidden creatures — both the hunt for animals we know to have existed, such as the night parrot in Western Australia, and things based more on fables and folklore, such as the Loch Ness monster.

Ms Lane said there was also an element of positive thinking in believing in the unseen and unproven.

“I like to look on the positive side of things,” she said.

“I think it’s important to stay positive and seeing that a species continues to exist in the face of us not expecting it, or just because we can’t see it, is a really important thing.”

Tasmania’s dark and mysterious forests provide the perfect breeding ground for people to believe there is more out there than we know about.

“If you look at a map of Tasmania that has got forest areas marked on it, it can be anywhere between a third to a half of Tasmania that is forest-type areas,” Ms Lane said.

“Are we so confident in our own ability to destroy something that may live in the other half of Tasmania that we don’t populate?”

Topics: offbeat, zoology, endangered-and-protected-species, pseudo-science, psychology, animal-science, research, hobart-7000

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