Testing the Validity of the Ghost Box as a Tool for Paranormal Investigation.

Mitch Silverstein1, Stephanie Bohn1, Kenny Biddle2

February 21, 2015

ABSTRACT:

The Ghost Box is a widely used device for paranormal investigating. We question the level of objectivity by those using this device. Respondents were sent a one minute recording from a Shack Hack Ghost Box and asked to respond to a questionnaire. We analyzed the results and explored the workings of these devices. The findings tell us that the interpretation of results by those who use this tool is very biased and subjective. The results collected in the field should not be put forth as evidence of paranormal activity.

Although a larger sampling of participants would strengthen the support of our hypothesis, we conclude there is enough information to state the Ghost Box is not a proper research tool for paranormal investigating due to the strong bias involved in the use and interpretation of the responses in the field. The intended use of the Ghost Box lends little or no control over the many inherent variables and it solely relies on subjective opinions as to what results are considered valid. The units are flawed in the sense that it will generate syllables by default which guarantees a user with belief in the device will interpret it as a spirit response. We do not present this research to suggest to people what to believe in, we merely support the facts and evidence that perceived results from the ghost box should remain a personal experience and should not be presented as supporting evidence of paranormal activity nor be included in any scientific methodology. Those presenting evidence based on Ghost Box recordings will bear the burden of proof that their findings support their beliefs.

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Visions and Voices – Paranormal or Psychotic?

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by  Michael J. Baker

A belief in the existence of paranormal phenomena is quite common these days. It’s certainly not difficult to find television shows, movies or books touting some sort of paranormal theme nor is it hard to find alleged witnesses to these strange  occurrences. However some paranormal beliefs share a distinct similarity to symptoms of psychosis. For example, mediumistic communication with the dead is starkly similar to hallucinatory symptoms found in patients with acute Schizophrenia. For those experiencing this psychosis, communication with beings not seen by their peers  can be a common occurrence. These beings can appear as one personality or many. They may appear intermittently or continuous. They may manifest as a constant whispering or they may converse directly. All of these traits have not only been historically described by patients suffering from Schizophrenia, but also by mediums in their descriptions of their esoteric communications. This begs the question; Are paranormal witnesses simply suffering from some form of psychosis? or is there an element that adequately differentiates the mediumistic experience from the psychotic?

In the public eye, religious or non religious, there seems to be a greater tendency  to process fortean claims without an implied psychological label. A larger segment of the population  in general has historically been more accepting of astonishing claims when presented in a spiritual context as opposed to secular. But why?  What separates the hallucination and delusions of a psychotic experience from the visions and experiences that are described by those claiming to witness paranormal phenomena; and are the two related?

A 2012 study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry suggested that paranormal believers may not only have cognitive biases similar to those observed in psychotic patients but also problems related to thinking clarity (Lawrence & Peters, 2004; Yorulmaz, Inozu, & Gültepe, 2011). Reasoning abnormalities appear to play a causal role in the formation of unusual beliefs. Additionally cognitive bias, which is our tendency to deviate from rational thinking in support of our beliefs, may represent soft signs of a neurological defect known as the schizoid taxon (Meehl, 1962, 1989) and those biases may in-fact be preliminary indicators of a psychotic risk.  While these findings may outwardly suggest that a paranormal experience is an early indicator of a potential psychosis it should be noted that some authors are suggesting that the mere presence of paranormal belief should not be considered a reliable indicator. In other words, having a paranormal experience doesn’t “necessarily” imply an underlying psychosis.

Dr. J.T. Wigman from the Department of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences at the University of Utrecht, believes that claims of paranormal experiences are typically associated with much lower levels of psychological distress and may be independent of psychosis. (Wigman et al., 2011)   He suggests that a possible way to improve the predictive value of unusual beliefs and experiences for psychosis risk may involve the consideration of associated cognitive features, idiosyncratic thinking styles, the role of belief appraisal, and the associated distress  (Cella, Cooper, Dymond, & Reed, 2008; Garety & Hemsley, 1994; Preti & Cella, 2010 a).

While a definitive causal link between psychosis and claims of paranormal phenomena may remain elusive it’s important to understand that the sources of anomalous phenomena may still potentially be psychological in nature.  Numerous cognitive biases can have adverse effects on how the human mind processes experiences and these “thinking errors” can prevent individuals from accurately understanding reality even when presented with sufficient data and evidence to form an accurate view. Various mood disorders and medications can also affect our interpretation of the outside world and unfortunately, just knowing about these obstacles doesn’t necessarily free us from their effects.

Sources

Lawrence, E., & Peters, E. R. (2004). Reasoning in believers in the paranormal. Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease, 192, 727 e 733

Yorulmaz, O., Inozu, M., & Gültepe, B. (2011). The role of magical thinking in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder symptoms and cognitions in an analogue sample. Journal of Behavioural Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 42,198 e 203

Meehl, P. E. (1962). Schizotaxia, schizotypy, schizophrenia. American Psychologist, 17, 827 e 838.

Wigman, J. T., Vollebergh, W. A., Raaijmakers, Q. A., Iedema, J., van Dorsselaer, S., Ormel, J., et al. (2011). The structure of the extended psychosis phenotype in early adolescence d A cross-sample replication.

Schizophrenia Bullettin, 37, 850 e 860

Cella, M., Cooper, A., Dymond, S. O., & Reed, P. (2008). The relationship between dysphoria and proneness to hallucination and delusions among young adults. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 49,544 e 550

Garety, P. A., & Hemsley, D. R. (1994). Delusions: Investigations into the psychology of delusional reasoning. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Preti, A., & Cella, M. (2010b). Randomized controlled trials in people at ultra high risk of psychosis: a review of treatment effectiveness. Schizophrenia Research, 123,30 e 36

(n.d.). Symptoms of schizophrenia. Retrieved from Living with Schizophrenia website: http://www.livingwithschizophreniauk.org/symptoms-of-schizophrenia/

Bias versus bias: Harnessing hindsight to reveal paranormal belief change beyond demand characteristics

Abstract:
Psychological change is difficult to assess, in part because self-reported beliefs and attitudes may be biased or distorted. The present study probed belief change, in an educational context, by using the hindsight bias to counter another bias that generally plagues assessment of subjective change. Although research has indicated that skepticism courses reduce paranormal beliefs, those findings may reflect demand characteristics (biases toward desired, skeptical responses). Our hindsight-bias procedure circumvented demand by asking students, following semester-long skepticism (and control) courses, to recall their precourse levels of paranormal belief. People typically remember themselves as previously thinking, believing, and acting as they do now, so current skepticism should provoke false recollections of previous skepticism. Given true belief change, therefore, skepticism students should have remembered themselves as having been more skeptical than they were. They did, at least about paranormal topics that were covered most extensively in the course. Our findings thus show hindsight to be useful in evaluating cognitive change beyond demand characteristics.
Psychology and its allied disciplines have long struggled to accurately assess change, whether that ostensible change results from maturation, senescence, laboratory experimental manipulations, psychotherapeutic techniques, community interventions, or educational programs (see, e.g., Cronbach & Furby, 1970; Hertzog & Nesselroade, 2003; Lord, 1956, 1967; Nesselroade, Stigler, & Baltes, 1980; Rubin, 1974). Of course, in contexts in which the desired change is entirely subjective—as is the case with attitudes, beliefs, cognitions, evaluations, or emotional states—the risks of misidentifying or misinterpreting change will only increase, since subjects’ self-reports may be biased, distorted, or erroneous (see, e.g., Conway & Ross, 1984; Festinger, 1957; Greenwald, Spangenberg, Pratkanis, & Eskenazi, 1991; Hoogstraten, 1979; Kirsch, 1985; Lewinsohn & Rosenbaum, 1987; Loftus, 1979; H. Markus & Kunda, 1986; Orne, 1962; Wilson & Brekke, 1994). Researchers must therefore develop statistical and methodological tools to help discriminate real from illusory change. The present study demonstrated a seemingly paradoxical approach, whereby a powerful cognitive bias was strategically deployed as a means to counter another, especially formidable bias that plagues assessment of subjective change —here, in the context of an educational intervention designed to affect undergraduates’ beliefs.

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By: Michael J. Kane, Tammy J. Core R. Reed Hunt

Made available courtesy of the Psychonomic Society: http://dx.doi.org/10.3758/PBR.17.2.206

Paranormal Belief and Biases in Reasoning Underlying the Formation of Delusions

Abstract: Some recent research suggests that psycho logical processes underlying the formation of paranormal beliefs have much in common with those underlying delusional beliefs. On this ground a survey was conducted to investigate the relationship between paranormal beliefs and distortions in reasoning known to be associated with the development of psychotic delusions. A convenience sample of 250 people completed an online inventory of questionnaires measuring the intensity of paranormal beliefs, schizotypal biases in reasoning, and the need for closure. Both dimensions of paranormal belief surveyed here were found to be predicted by reasoning biases.

Australian Journal of Parapsychology 12/2012; 12(1):1445-2308.

HARVEY J. IRWIN, NEIL DAGNALL, & KENNETH DRINKWATER

Paranormal experience and the COMT dopaminergic gene: A preliminary attempt to associate phenotype with genotype using an underlying brain theory

Amir Raza,d,*, Terence Hinesb, John Fossellac and Daniella Castrob

a b s t r a c t

Paranormal belief and suggestibility seem related. Given our recent findings outlining a putative association between suggestibility and a specific dopaminergic genetic polymorphism, we hypothesized that similar exploratory genetic data may offer supplementary insights into a similar correlation with paranormal belief. With more affordable costs and better technology in the aftermath of the human genome project, genotyping is increasingly ubiquitous. Compelling brain theories guide specific research hypotheses as scientists begin to unravel tentative relationships between phenotype and genotype. In line with a dopaminergic brain theory, we tried to correlate a specific phenotype concerning paranormal belief with a dopaminergic gene (COMT) known for its involvement in prefrontal executive cognition and for a polymorphism that is positively correlated with
suggestibility. Although our preliminary findings are inconclusive, the research approach we outline should pave the road to a more scientific account of elucidating paranormal belief.

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Inattentional Blindness, Absorption, Working Memory Capacity, and Paranormal Belief

Abstract:

Anne Richards Department of Psychological Sciences
Birkbeck College University of London
Moa Gunnarsson Hellgren, Christopher C. French
Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit
Department of Psychology
Goldsmiths College

Two studies investigated the relationship between inattentional blindness, paranormal belief/experience, absorption, and working memory capacity (WMC). ‘Inattentional blindness’ (IB) refers to the failure to consciously register an unexpected visual stimulus or event when attention is diverted to a different task. Absorption is a highly focused state where individuals are unaware of stimuli outside of attentional focus and is linked with paranormal belief. It was predicted that IB individuals would have higher absorption scores and be more likely to believe in the paranormal than non-inattentionally blind (NIBs) individuals. In both studies, IBs had higher absorption and paranormal belief scores than NIBs, as predicted. In addition, Study 2 measured WMC. Although absorption predicted IB, when WMC and paranormal belief were entered into the analysis, only WMC predicted IB with IBs having lower WMC than NIBs. These data offer support for a cognitive deficit account of paranormal belief.

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The relationship between susceptibility to false memories, dissociativity, and paranormal belief and experience.

Krissy Wilson and Christopher C. French
Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit,
Department of Psychology,
Goldsmiths College,
University of London,
New Cross,
London SE14 6NW.

Abstract
One hundred participants completed a News Coverage Questionnaire concerning personal memories of where they were, what they were doing and who they were with when news footage of dramatic news events was first shown on television, as well as asking them to recall details of the footage itself. These news items included four events that are known to have been captured on film and one item concerning nonexistent footage of the bombing of a nightclub in Bali. Overall, 36% of respondents reported false memories of the alleged footage of the Bali bombing. Participants reporting false memories were found to score significantly higher than those who did not report such memories on the Australian Sheep-Goat Scale, on various sub-scales of the Anomalous Experiences Inventory (Belief, Experience and Ability) and on the Dissociative Experiences Scale, supporting the hypothesis that believers in the paranormal may be more susceptible to false memories than non-believers.

Keywords : False memories; dissociation; paranormal belief and experience.

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