Ask a professor why people think “paranormal activity” really exists, you’ll get one answer. Ask a psychic who de-haunts houses, you’ll get another.

The found-footage “Paranormal Activity” horror movies—the third installment, a prequel, opened on Friday—are popular not just because people like to be scared, academics who have researched the field say, but because belief in supernatural forces is deep-rooted in all cultures.

Carson Mencken, professor of sociology at Baylor University in Texas, who co-authored the book “Paranormal America,” did his research by meeting people across the country who spend their weekends at ghost hunts, psychic fairs, Bigfoot hunts or UFO searches.

“People are looking for enlightenment and they’re looking for discovery,” Mencken said. “There are hard-core committed believers. For other people it’s just a cool thing to do.” The enthusiasts are not crackpots, he said. “They are people who come from all professional walks of life.”

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