The Psychological Benefits of Believing in the Loch Ness Monster

Why we want to believe

Cari Nazeer
Forge
Published in
3 min readSep 7, 2019

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Keystone / Getty Images

If the Loch Ness monster is anything at all, new research argues, it’s probably just a really big eel.

A team of scientists analyzed the DNA found in hundreds of water samples collected from Scotland’s Loch Ness to piece together a picture of the lake’s animal life. The team, led by Neil Gemmell, a professor of anatomy at the University of Otago in New Zealand, announced this week that all that testing didn’t turn up anything to suggest a viable candidate for Nessie. No giant reptiles, no oversized sharks.

“The remaining theory that we cannot refute based on environmental DNA,” they wrote, “is that what people are seeing is a very large eel.”

Scientifically, this is a reasonable statement. Personally, it’s a bummer.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: The Loch Ness Monster is overwhelmingly likely to be nothing but a 1,500-year-old legend, propelled by doctored photos and active imaginations. But also: Nessie is a delightful creation of human imagination — a mythical creature in a Scottish lake. And entertaining the truly implausible can be one of the purest pleasures we have.

Yes, giving credence to the far-fetched can be damaging, or even dangerous, if it leads you down a rabbit hole of cover-ups and conspiracies. We’re confronted all too often now with examples of that.

And to conspiracists of all stripes, die-hard Nessie believers included, cold hard facts won’t change much. Research on the psychology of belief portrays it as the toughest substance known to man. Facts bend around it. When faced with evidence that contradicts something we believe to be true, we’re more inclined to reject the evidence than change our minds.

But what about us low-key Nessie truthers? Those of us who don’t believe in the Loch Ness monster, per se, but don’t not believe, either?

Entertaining the truly implausible can be one of the purest pleasures we have.

Do I earnestly, definitively think that there’s a massive-yet-mysterious beast swimming around that lake, expertly evading detection? No. Given all we know —…

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