Lacks falsifiability - hypotheses can't be disproved because they are
Lacks controlled, replicable research, e.g. Bem (2011) not replicated
Lacks theory to explain phenomena, e.g. ESP
Burden of proof misplaced on sceptic.
Lacks ability to change explanations.
If there are two competing explanations, simpler one is
to be preferred (Occam's razor) - paranormal
explanations are extremely convoluted.
Paranormal research is not the only pseudoscience -
some Freudian hypotheses also unfalsifiable.
The AAAS accepted the Parapsychological Association as a member.
Reasons to be concerned about paranormal research include: making money out of unfounded
claims, not asking for evidence.
e.g. Uri Geller
Significant results could be due to other factors, e.g.
Research bias - sheep-goat effect in receiver's elaborations
Expectations affect outcome of meta-analysis -
Honorton (1985) vs Hyman (1985).
File-drawer effect - results of meta-analysis
change according to which studies are left out.
Lack of control - lack of soundproofing and order of
EVALUATION *Positive results could be due to phenomena being
*Autoganzfeld improved control (e.g. random display of targets).
*This still led to positive result by Honorton et al. (1990) but not Milton and
Wiseman (1999), although this was criticised by Bem et al. (2001).
*Fraudulent research by Sargent still included in data; fraud may be a particular problem
Expectations created in study by Wiseman and Greening (2005), led to macro-PK reports.
Lack of control - well-controlled studies show no effect (Hansel, 1989).
Ecological validity - micro-PK may not represent paranormal action.
EVALUATION *Quality of studies not related to positive results (Radin and Nelson, 2003), same findings from non-believers (Bosch et al., 2006).
Bierman (2000) - steady decline in effect size over years, suggesting phenomena not real.
Psychic Healing and Mediumship
Healing *Energy fields re-aligned by e.g. therapeutic touch. *Reduction of
anxiety through psychological support. *Placebo effect.
EVALUATION *Lyvers et al. (2006) - no evidence for psychic healing, believers improved more. *No
placebo effect for prayers for cardiac recovery.
Mediumship *Clues help medium produce accurate information without psychic ability (cold reading).
*Use of general statements (Barnum statements) and willingness of sitters to elaborate. *Fraud - psychic
mediumship is big business so people resort to complex and convincing strategies.
EVALUATION *Sitters willing to be deceived. *Supported by mock
seance (Wiseman et al.)
Healing *Wirth (1990) - patients tested with TT or no touch -former recovered faster. *Rosa et al.
(1998) -TT practitioners unable to detect 'energy field' of experimenter's hand. *Cha et al. (2001) -
effect of prayer on infertile women, twice as many became pregnant.
EVALUATION *Rosa et al. study invalid because experimenter not ill. *Study repeated (Long et al. 1999), results better than chance,
however this may be through heat detection. *Wirth's results haven't been replicated, and Wirth was subsequently convicted of
Mediumship *Schwartz et al. (2001) - accuracy of medium
statements about 80%. *Rock and Beischel (2008)
EVALUATION *O'Keeffe and Wiseman (2005) *Schwartz et al.
OOBE and NDE
OOBE *Paranormal - mind and body separated.
*Sensory input is disturbed, reconstruction
based on bird's eye view (Blackmore, 1982).
EVALUATION *Alvardo (1982) found no evidence of parasomatic body having physically moved.
*Individual differences, e.g. OOBEs reported more often by believers and those prone to
NDE *Endorphins released at time of stress, lead to feelings of euphoria and detachment (Carr, 1982).
*REM intrusions due to hypoxia disrupt integration of sensory information. *Hypoxia triggers a flood of
glutamate which is blocked by the brain to prevent neuronal death, leading to an NDE.
EVALUATION *Likely to be a psychological component because NDEs not
experienced by all. *Cardiac survivors regarded NDE as a spiritual experience,
but this doesn't mean that spiritual factors cause NDEs.
OOBE *Green (1968) - 400 personal accounts of OOBEs, 20% 'parasomatic, rest 'aromatic'. *Use of
induced OOBEs (Alvarado, 1982) -weak but occasionally startling results. *Blanke et al. (2002) -
stimulation of temporal- parietal junction of the brain resulted in OOBEs.
EVALUATION *Difficulty to study OOBEs scientifically because occur without predictability.
*Artificially-induced OOBEs not seen as equivalent. *Physiological explanations are reductionist.
NDE *Ring (1980) - survivors describe NDE as peaceful and like a life review. *Nelson et al. (2006) - NDE
group more likely to experience REM intrusions.
EVALUATION *Early studies poorly controlled. *Interviewer bias may affect
Coincidence and Probability
Illusion of causality & Illusion of
connection & Illusion of control & General
EVALUATION *Type 1 errors and Type 2 errors. *Brugger et al - high levels of
dopamine *Illusion of control supported by Whitson and Galinsky
Paranormal experiences are a a cognitive illusion due to attributing cause to
random events (Blackmore and Troscianko) & Tested using repletion avoidance,
questions about probability etc.
EVALUATION *Blackmore (1997) - no difference between sheep and goats on probability task. *Evidence shows belief is linked to probability misjudgement but not
necessarily a cause. *Probability misjudgement may be linked to low cognitive ability. *Probability misjudgement can alternatively be explained in terms of feeling to
understand heuristics, such as representativeness.
Superstitious Behaviour and Magical Thinking
*Making erroneous casual links (Type 1 error) is adaptive. *Skinner (1947) - superstitions develop
when an accidental stimulus-response link is learned, and then maintained through negative
reinforcement (dual process). *Superstitions develop to give an illusion of control (Whitson and
EVALUATION *Skinner provided evidence from study of pigeons, who acquired superstitions. *Staddon and Simmelhag
repeated Skinner's experiment and found 'superstitious' behaviours unrelated to food reward. *Illusion of control increases
*Fraud - a form of child-like thinking, a defence mechanism in adults. *Dual processing theory - thought is intuitive or
logical *Animism (Piaget) - association of objects with feelings *Nominal thinking - names of objects affect our feelings
about them *Law of contagion
EVALUATION *Method used to measure paranormal beliefs affects correlations with personality
factors.*Wiseman and Watt (2004) found correlation with neuroticism only when negative beliefs of PBS
measured. *Evidence that psychoticism is linked to some paranormal beliefs (Francis et al.,2010). *Locus
of control - depends on type of paranormal belief, some correlate positively with externality, others
negatively. * Susceptibility might explain recollection of alien abductions (Clancy et al., 2002). *
paranormal experiences may be false beliefs, more common in susceptible people, supported by Fench
and Wilson (2006). * some evidence of link with mental disorder but more likely satisfies a need for
some people, e.g. abuse in childhood may leak to fantasy proneness and need for a greater sense of
Personality Factors in Anomalous Experience
Neuroticism (defence mechanism) & Extraversion - People more open to paranormal
beliefs & Positive correlation with neuroticism (Williams et al) and with extraversion
(Honorton et al).
EVALUATION *Wiseman and Watt found correlation with neuroticism only
when -ve beliefs of PBS measured.
Fantasy proneness - becoming so deeply absorbed in fantasy to believe it's
real & Suggestibility - more willing to believe fakes & Creative personalities
make links between unrelated items
EVALUATION *Some evidence of link with mental disorder but more likely satisfies a need for some people,
e.g. abuse in childhood may lead to fantasy proneness and need for a greater sense of control.
Locus of control & field dependence
EVALUATION *Locus of control - depends on type of paranormal belief, some correlate positively with
externality, others negatively.