Objective: Throughout history and across all cultures, many people have believed in some form of afterlife. Recent surveys show that most people worldwide believe they will survive after bodily death. Those who do not believe would require substantial empirical evidence to influence their skepticism. This study’s objective was to evaluate what types of evidence might persuade academic professionals that some aspect of consciousness survives after bodily death.
Method: We surveyed academic professionals and collected demographic and professional background data, personal confidence in survival, and paranormal belief ratings. Respondents also rated the persuasiveness of 10 relevant experiments and the likelihood of their success. These data were analyzed over all participants and partitioned by confidence in survival.
Results: Professional academics (N = 442) completed the survey. Gender was a significant predictor of confidence in survival, paranormal belief, and many persuasiveness ratings, with females having higher scores than males. Older age was a positive predictor for persuasiveness ratings of a proposed experiment involving after-death communication. Confidence in survival and paranormal beliefs were highly correlated. The highest persuasiveness ratings were for a controlled, prospective experiment that resulted in veridical out-of-body perceptions during a near-death experience, a mediumship experiment, and a reincarnation experiment. The least persuasive proposed experiment was survival in the form of computer-based artificial intelligence.
Conclusion: Academics hold a wide range of beliefs and confidence in survival. Successful experiments designed to test for survival may influence skeptics’ prior beliefs.