Five hard to swallow facts about Paranormal Research

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1 Audio, Video or Photos will NEVER serve as conclusive proof of “paranormal” phenomena 

Oh I know that statement is bound to launch a thousand debates (and a few more hate mails), but let’s be honest here… media is not only easily misunderstood, it’s easily manipulated. Everything that is submitted as evidence on media carries with it a silent requirement to “trust” the source (a.k.a. the person who submitted it) and therein lies the problem.  If you present me with an incredible video of a ghostly being traversing the stairs of some old home,  my acceptance of this as evidence now presents me with an obligation to believe you didn’t fake it, misinterpret it or misrepresent it. I have to believe you that the conditions were as you say they were when it was captured and that everything else you present me with in support of that video is ALSO legitimate (i.e. photos, meter readings, experiences etc.).

That’s a lot of trust… Slow down, we hardly know each other. 

It’s this unstable variable that prevents any media based evidence from being considered conclusive (or even in some cases suggestive). So what DOES constitute conclusive proof?  I’m glad you asked. There is only one factor that will ever conclusively prove the existence of any unusual phenomenon and that is “demonstrability”.  Yep, you need to be able to demonstrate or repeat it to a degree that it can be studied with some element of reliability under strict controls.

You see the scientific method suggests that a concept or idea is more credible when it can be repeated. Even if only through long and tedious means. Repetition and control are key. If it’s a phenomena (and not just an event), it will or can be repeated.

 2 No matter how “in control and grounded” you claim to be, your brain can and DOES continue to fool you… you are not immune.

Oh people say it all the time. “I’m not crazy.”, “I know what I saw”, “I wasn’t hallucinating”, “I wouldn’t lie about something like that.”, “She told me she was 18”. Well maybe not the last one, but the point is people are exceedingly hard to convince when it comes to doubting their own perceptions. We all want to believe that our senses are relatively infallible, that our brains are not easily fooled and that our rationalization skills are in great working order. But the truth is utterly disappointing.

For decades numerous scientists and researchers around the world have documented the astounding fallibility of our perceptive process. Television shows, games, carnival attractions and even art have been created that specifically take advantage of the holes in our cognitive faculties. We are ALL born suckers and there’s really nothing we can do about it other than understand that the condition exists and honestly consider these shortcomings in our analysis of unusual events.

3  Your shining credibility does not make your experience more believable.

Groucho Marx once said, “There’s one way to find out if a man is honest: ask him. If he says yes, then you know he is crooked.”  – That statement was  only funny because it’s true.

Everyone – you, me, your spouse, children, siblings, co-workers, best friends, teachers, employers and even your sweet old grandmother have told lies. By age four, 90% of children have grasped the concept of lying (Osmols 2011), and it just goes downhill from there. According to a 2002 study conducted by the University of Massachusetts, 60% of all adults can’t have a ten minute conversation without telling a lie at least once (UMASS 2002). and according to the study those folks who did lie actually told an average of 3 lies during their short discussion with the researchers.

I know you’re sitting there right now insisting that you would be part of the 40% that didn’t lie but that’s what the liars in the study thought, too. When they reviewed their own conversations, they were flabbergasted at how many lies they had actually told.

Unsurprisingly, we also sometimes lie about important aspects. According to one estimate, 40% of people lie on their resumes (Forbes 2006).  A shocking 90% of people looking for a date online lie in their profile. (Scientific American 2007)   So no matter how honest you believe you are, no matter how accurate your rendition of a paranormal event is (even if it truly happened to you), the majority of the world will never simply “accept” what you are claiming with complete certainty… They just won’t.

Any equipment that requires the “interpretation” of non-repeatable results is complete bullshit.

Yep , I went there….bullshit.  In fact pretty much all of the marketed devices used in “ghost hunting” today  require a personal interpretation of the results in order to determine the significance of their output.  (Yes I’m looking at you spirit box, Ovilus, Paranormal Puck, Vortex Dome, Para-Scope, V-Pod, Rem Pod, Ghost Ark, Dowsing Rods, Pendulums, Ouija Boards, KII Meters, Geo-Pods and yes…EMF Meters)

So what’s wrong with personal interpretation you say?  I will explain…

Scenario 1-  In a hospital, a doctor uses a heart monitor to determine if someone is having  heart trouble. He / She interprets the readings of the heart monitor to make or assist in a diagnosis.

Scenario 2 – In an old home a paranormal investigator uses a specialized device (choose any from the list above) to determine if the home is haunted. He/ She interprets the readout/response of the equipment to make a determination.

So what is the difference between Scenario 1 and 2? They seem relatively the same right? Well not really.

In scenario 1 the doctor is measuring a tangible object – the human heart. It’s proper function has been well documented and how a healthy one should appear on a heart monitor is academic as is the comparison between the live readings and the expected readings used to help  indicate a problem. The interpretation the doctor makes is based on known and “demonstrated” information.

In scenario 2 the investigator is simply looking for any unusual reaction, especially one that ties into his / her expectations or the context of the location or perhaps even one that correlates with other experiences. This is done because he/she doesn’t know with any certainty what a paranormal experience “should” read. There is no documented historical data for a paranormal occurrence. So responsible comparisons cannot be made and interpretations are based entirely on subjective opinion. Hardly factual.

“Nobody has EVER linked EMF to actual localized paranormal occurrences in any reliable or predictable fashion….EVER.”

Question: So if that’s the case how can manufacturers of paranormal gadgetry even begin to design a device that works?

Answer: They can’t.

 (They are all bullshit in my opinion):

5 There has never been any credible, demonstrable research to even suggest the plausibility of life beyond death.

Sure there have been “sciency” people in history who have attempted to prove the existence of a soul, others who tried to establish communications with those who have passed and still others who have insisted they have been to the other side and back, but in spite of the numerous attempts and claims that flood the internet, we are not any closer to officially proving life after death than we were 5000 years ago.

Don’t get me wrong, who wouldn’t love the idea of a second chance?  To see your departed loved ones again, to be free of the mortal bonds that plague our existence, to have learned from a lifetime of experience, free of illness, free of strife, free of pain. It sure is a comforting thought, but unfortunately, right now, it’s only that… a thought.  The fact is that the research conducted over the past two centuries in the hopes of proving “life after death” have chalked up a big fat zilch in terms of results. If it’s there, we haven’t proven it yet…  no one has.

So for those in search of human souls, ghosts and spirits… to officially claim that you have contacted the dear departed, you must first establish with complete certainty (not just with opinion) that life does go on beyond this mortal veil. That there are dis-incarnate “beings” there to contact. Do this and the rest will go down the scientific gullet like a candy coated gumdrop. Until then… well… you know.


So here we have it five hard to swallow facts about Paranormal Research. I’ll finish by saying that this in no way proclaims that unusual, undiscovered phenomena doesn’t exists. In fact, I’m inclined to believe it does, but once again that’s just my opinion, and you know what they say about those.

No one ever said it was going to be easy.

Resources:

http://www.emaxhealth.com/6705/when-children-lie-they-are-simply-reaching-developmental-milestone

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2002-06/uoma-urf061002.php

http://www.forbes.com/2006/05/20/resume-lies-work_cx_kdt_06work_0523lies.html

http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/C1597486-E7F2-99DF-310BFD76D5647B1D/

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A Paranormal Expert? Karma may run over your Dogma.

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If there’s one thing the paranormal community has no shortage of, it’s self-proclaimed experts. Many have suffered under the long winded, unsupported meandering claims of these “Para-Con artists” (See what I did there?).  Their  hastily co-written self-published books, t-shirts, television shows, convention appearances, quack gadgetry and promotional photos represent them to a naive crowd of adoring fans while their unwillingness or ability to offer peer reviewed support for their fantastic (and often absurd) claims clearly defines them to the true thinkers of the community.

Over Claiming

In June  of 2015 research published in Psychological Science  a journal of the Association for Psychological Science revealed that the more people think they know about a topic in general, the more likely they are to allege knowledge of completely made-up information and false facts. This is a phenomenon known as “over-claiming.”  Part of the experimentation contained in the study involved testing whether individuals who perceived themselves to be experts in personal finance for example would be more likely to claim knowledge of fake financial terms. One hundred participants were asked to rate their general knowledge of personal finance, as well as their knowledge of 15 specific finance terms. Most of the terms on the list were real (i.e. Roth IRA, inflation, home equity), but the researchers also included three made-up terms such as (pre-rated stocks, fixed-rate deduction, annualized credit). The participants who saw themselves as financial experts were most likely to claim knowledge of the bogus finance terms (even when they were warned about them). The same pattern emerged for other domains, including biology, literature, philosophy, and geography. (Atir, S 2015)

While the study did not include paranormal research (for obvious reasons) it’s not hard to imagine the effect “over-claiming” has on those professing knowledge in this community. The world of paranormal investigation and research is filled with broad claims and ideas that have exceedingly little to no demonstrable support and those with a tendency to magically adopt expertise on these ideas can fill in the blanks and sell with confidence whatever conclusions make the most sense to them… and they certainly do.

Year after year thousands of people pay outrageous prices to fill the seats of convention halls and theaters, eager to  listen to the latest and greatest players in the paranormal field.   Unfortunately, quite often, the information they receive contains little to no substance in terms of research quality. Statements such as “Spirits can attach themselves to an object” or “Some spirits don’t like their photos to be taken.” are presented as fact with the presenter offering little to no research to support the claim.

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I remember several years ago, sitting in an audience listening to a well-respected (and quite famous) demonologist/investigator. During the presentation the presenter told a story about a woman who was plagued by tremendous activity in her home. He went on to say that the woman had fallen into a deep depression and plainly stated “This malevolent spirit had attached itself to her and was slowly draining her energy, trying to take control”.  I was astounded by what I was hearing. When the presentation was over the floor was opened up for questions and that was my opportunity to better understand.

I promptly raised my hand and spoke “I was wondering what research has been done to suggest that not only spirits exist, but that they can  attach themselves to people and drain their energy?”  without missing a beat the presenter replied “There have been a lot of documented cases  over the years showing this, but unfortunately the scientists don’t want to take the time to learn for themselves.”  Sensing a bit of agitation and an opportunity for clarity I countered “Well can you recommend a few published, peer reviewed cases that I could read?” Thinking for a moment, the presenter replied. “Well there are a few in my book. The case I spoke about today is a classic example.” It was clear that this “professional” researcher had no idea what published, peer reviewed research actually was. Realizing the futility of the conversation,  I asked one final question. “How do you know that a spirit was causing that woman’s depression and not some other issue?” Unfortunately the reply I got was shocking, but not surprising. “We had already ruled out every other issue before coming to this conclusion. Psychologists gave her a clean bill of health… What else could it be?”  And there it was… the smoking gun response “I don’t know what it is so it must be a demon”.  How any psychologist worth his salt could give a woman with depression a clean bill of health beyond me, but then I wasn’t there and there is no properly documented record of the case.

The Earned Dogmatic Effect

What astounded me the most about this experience was that the audience was undeterred. After the questions were through, dozens of people lined up to buy his books and have their photos taken with this legendary investigator who’s self-proclaimed expertise has misguided people for decades. I can think of no other domain where such a fast path to notoriety is possible based on such an insubstantial foundation.  However, many supporters of paranormal experts like the one mentioned find it easy to forgive a lack of scientific foundation in their claims. Many people approach paranormal study from a decidedly spiritual perspective and tend to seek experiences more than a foundation of knowledge claiming that hard Science often lacks an open mind.

Anyone would think that those with expertise (self-proclaimed or otherwise) in an area of study that deals with so many unknowns would at the very least offer the  presence of an open mind, but a recent study presented in the November issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology tells quite a different perspective.

The research conducted at Loyola University in Chicago suggests that being an “expert” in anything can actually make you more closed-minded. The study found that people who perceive themselves to be experts tend to be less open to new ideas and alternative viewpoints. A character trait that does not sit well with a vocation in paranormal study (or the scientific community).

According to the study, social norms entitle experts to be more dogmatic. This Earned Dogmatism Effect was observed in five experiments. It emerged when using success (high expertise) and failure (low expertise) manipulations of test performance both within and outside the political domain. It also emerged when comparing participants who occupy a “high expertise social role”. (Ottati,V 2015)

In Conclusion

It seems that in our society, we tolerate more forceful and dogmatic expressions of opinion when the speaker is an expert as opposed to a novice. Therefore when the situation makes us feel like we are an ‘expert,’ it activates these role expectations in our mind, and we feel more entitled to think in a dogmatic manner – in other words, we feel more entitled to dismiss, ignore, or disparage opinions and viewpoints that differ from our own opinion.

I have no doubt that we all have experienced (from both sides of the fence at one time or another) the effects of over claiming and earned dogmatic behavior. We are after all human. However, going forward as we continue our search of the unknown, either as teacher or student, it might not be a bad idea for  everyone –especially these self-proclaimed kings of esoteric knowledge — to read up on what it means to show intellectual humility.

Sources:

Atir, S., Rosenzweig, E., & Dunning, D. (2015). When knowledge knows no bounds : Self-perceived expertise predicts claims of impossible knowledge. Psychological Science. Retrieved from http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2015/07/14/0956797615588195.abstract

Ottati, V., Price, E., Wilson, C., & Sumaktoyo, N. (2015). When self-perceptions of expertise increase closed-minded cognition: The earned dogmatism effect. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 61, 131-138. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022103115001006

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

REALITY TESTING AND THE FORMATION OF PARANORMAL BELIEFS: A CONSTRUCTIVE REPLICATION

by HARVEY J. IRWIN
ABSTRACT:
This study investigated the role of reality testing deficits in the formation of belief in the paranormal. In the present context reality testing is taken to entail the person’s inclination to test critically the logical plausibility of his or her beliefs. An earlier study of this relationship by the author (Irwin, in press) was partially compromised by the use of an index of reality testing deficits that was potentially contaminated by a small number of items implicating paranormal belief. The current research therefore constitutes a constructive replication of the original study in that it surveyed the relationship of facets of paranormal belief to a deficit in reality testing when the measure of the latter had no items concurrently incorporating specifically paranormal beliefs. A questionnaire survey of 161 adults from the general Australian population revealed that two  fundamental facets of paranormal belief were predicted by reality testing deficits. The findings are discussed in relation to the cognitive bases of the formation of paranormal belief.
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Loss of Control Increases Belief in Precognition and Belief in Precognition Increases Control

Abstract

Katharine H. Greenaway*, Winnifred R. Louis, Matthew J. Hornsey
The University of Queensland, School of Psychology, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Every year thousands of dollars are spent on psychics who claim to “know” the future. The present research questions why, despite no evidence that humans are able to psychically predict the future, do people persist in holding irrational beliefs about precognition? We argue that believing the future is predictable increases one’s own perceived ability to exert control over future events. As a result, belief in precognition should be particularly strong when people most desire control–that is, when they lack it. In Experiment 1 (N = 87), people who were experimentally induced to feel low in control reported greater belief in precognition than people who felt high in control. Experiment 2 (N = 53) investigated whether belief in precognition increases perceived control. Consistent with this notion, providing scientific evidence that precognition is possible increased feelings of control relative to providing scientific evidence that precognition was not possible. Experiment 3 (N = 132) revealed that when control is low, believing in precognition helps people to feel in control once more. Prediction therefore acts as a compensatory mechanism in times of low control. The present research provides new insights into the psychological functions of seemingly irrational beliefs, like belief in psychic abilities.

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Personality and Paranormal Belief: a study among adolescents

A sample of 279 13- to 16-year-old adolescents completed the Short-form Revised Junior Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (JEPQR-S) and a six-item Index of Paranormal Belief. The data demonstrate that neuroticism is fundamental to individual differences in paranormal belief, while paranormal belief is independent of extraversion and psychoticism.
KEY WORDS: Personality, Eysenck, Paranormal religion

In recent years increased interest has been placed on the study of paranormal beliefs among teenagers. For example, Boyd (1996) conducted a study among 506 teenagers between the ages of 14 and 16 attending non-denominational schools. The data demonstrated that 46% were uncertain whether experimenting in the occult was harmful, one in five (19%) said they had used an ouija board occasionally, and 41% agreed that it was possible to contact spirits of the dead. Francis and Kay (1995) found similar results in their study of over 13,000 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 15. The data demonstrated that over one-third (35%) believed in their horoscope, 37% believed in ghosts, and one in five (18%) believed in black magic. The data also demonstrated a positive correlation between belief in supernatural phenomena and age, indicating that older pupils were more likely to believe in paranormal phenomena than younger pupils (pp. 151-163). However, other studies have demonstrated a negative correlation between paranormal belief and age. For example, Preece and Baxter (2000) conducted a study among 2,159 students in years 7 (11- to 12-year-olds), 9 (13- to 14- year-olds) and 11 (15- to 16- year-olds) from 22 schools and 51 trainee teachers participating in the postgraduate certificate of education programme (PGCE). The data demonstrated that levels of scepticism regarding paranormal beliefs became more pronounced among older participants, with the PGCE students being the most sceptical…

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Reasoning in believers in the paranormal

ABSTRACT Reasoning biases have been identified in deluded patients, delusion-prone individuals, and believers in the paranormal. This study examined content-specific reasoning and delusional ideation in believers in the paranormal. A total of 174 members of the Society for Psychical Research completed a delusional ideation questionnaire and a deductive reasoning task. The reasoning statements were manipulated for congruency with paranormal beliefs. As predicted, individuals who reported a strong belief in the paranormal made more errors and displayed more delusional ideation than skeptical individuals. However, no differences were found with statements that were congruent with their belief system, confirming the domain-specificity of reasoning. This reasoning bias was limited to people who reported a belief in, rather than experience of, paranormal phenomena. These results suggest that reasoning abnormalities may have a causal role in the formation of unusual beliefs. The dissociation between experiences and beliefs implies that such abnormalities operate at the evaluative, rather than the perceptual, stage of processing.

Reasoning in believers in the paranormal.

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