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  • Writer's pictureBernard Beitman, MD

Why Do You Experience Lots of Coincidences (or Not)?

Research highlights characteristics of people who are sensitive to coincidences.

People who describe themselves as spiritual or religious report experiencing more meaningful coincidences than those who did not according to research done by my Coincidence Studies group.

In subsequent research, we proceeded to define the personality traits that were associated with high coincidence sensitivity.

This is a summary of our findings. For the full report please click here.

Participants were 280 undergraduate university students enrolled in a psychology class. Of the sample, 159 (57%) were female, and 121 (43%) were male. The mean age of the sample was 19.1 (SD = 1.1). Of the sample, 88.2% were white, 6.8% were black, 2.1% were Asian, less than 1% was Hispanic, and 2.1% reported “Other.”

Participants were presented with a prototypical coincidence scenario to prompt their understanding of “coincidence”.

The primary purpose of this study was to conduct a confirmatory factor analysis of previous work on the Weird Coincidence Scale (WCS) to help establish its psychometric reliability and validity. To accomplish this goal, we selected from a large set of personality questionnaires to compare with scores on the WCS.

The secondary benefit was the identification of personality variables that are associated with coincidence sensitivity.

Six Personality Traits

Six personality traits emerged as potential measures of coincidence sensitivity:

Referential Thinking Scale measures ideas of reference which involve the belief that outside events have a particular and unusual meaning for the person. An example of a test item is “When I see two people talking at work, I usually think they are criticizing me.”

Positive and Negative Affect Scale measures the independent dimensions of positive and negative affect. The positive affect terms are happy, joyful, pleased, and enjoyment/fun and the negative affect terms are depressed/blue, unhappy, frustrated, angry/hostile, and worried/anxious.

Vitality Scale measures subjective vitality, or positive feelings of energy and aliveness. An example of a test item is “I have energy and spirit.”

Religious Commitment Inventory measures “the degree to which a person adheres to his or her religious values, beliefs, and practices, and uses them in daily living.” A sample item is, “I spend time trying to grow by understanding my faith.”

Meaning in Life Scale measures two independent constructs — presence of meaning in life and search for meaning in life. An example of a Presence item is “I have discovered a satisfying life purpose.” An example of a Search question is “I am looking for something that makes my life feel meaningful."

Faith in Intuition Scale measures the experiential thinking system, which is characterized as being “preconscious, rapid, automatic, holistic, primarily nonverbal, intimately associated with affect.” An example item is “I tend to use my heart as a guide for my actions.”


We compared their scores on the Weird Coincidence Survey with each of their scores on the personality questionnaires. The most statistically significant was The Referential Scale. The ranking of all 6 was:

1) Referential thinking

Referential thinking is characterized by beliefs that “events around me have to do with me.” Looking for coincidences and finding meaning in them represents a form of referential thinking.

2) Vitality and negative affect

High emotional charge is likely to generate increased associations.

3) Religious commitment

Religious commitment is often associated with the idea that God intervenes personally in people’s lives, suggesting the coincidences may be interpreted as a means by which people are being guided.

4) Search for meaning

A tendency to explore meaning in life is likely to be applied to searching for meaning in coincidences.

5) Faith in intuition (which statistically was not significant)

Faith in intuition involves finding importance in and drawing conclusions from coincidences rarely through rational means. We were surprised that this factor was not significant although others have found it to be significant using different scales.


An increased tendency to associate one idea to another is the common denominator among these personality characteristics. In various ways, each of these traits facilitates connecting an observation with a thought or a thought with an observation. To be self-referential increases the likelihood to connect an observation to a comment on the self. High emotion increases thought production which creates more connections. Religious commitment seeks thoughts and experiences to support the idea that God intervenes in our lives through “minor miracles¨ like coincidences. The search for meaning drives people to connect their external experiences to their internal needs as possible guides in life's journey.

With what ease do you connect similar ideas together?

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