Anomalistic Psychology


Features of Pseudoscience

Features of Pseudoscience:

  • Relies on flawed methodology and anecdotal evidence
  • Aims to confirm rather than refute its own theories
  • Avoids peer review
  • Proposes unfalsifiable hypothesis
  • Uses complex scientific jargon with imprecise meanings to give the impression of science
  • Fails to build on or connect to existing scientific knowledge
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Studies of Paranormal Cognition

Ganzfeld: reciever is placed in a sense of sensory deprivation, halved ping pong balls on their eyes with a red light shining in and wearing headphones playing white noice. Sender in a seperate room observes a randomly chosen target and attempts to send the image to the reciever. Reciever shown 4 images (3 decoys). If chance alone hit rate of 25%.

Honorton: claimed that 24/42 studies had a hit rate greater than 25% although others disagree with this claim

Milton and Wiseman: Meta analysis of 30 studies, found a hit rate greater than 25%

Bem and Honorton: Meta analysis, found that individual differences influenced hit rate. e.g people who practice yoga/meditation scored higher

Methodological Issues: 

  • Sensory leakage
  • Non-randomization of targets
  • Procedure is often not fully reported
  • Statistical manipulation often occurs during analysis
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  • Macro Pk is the movement of objects that can be seen with the eye
  • Micro Pk is the influence of an object that cannot be seen e.g a dice roll
  • Early Micro Pk studies showed promising results but can be influenced by slight of hand

Radin and Ferrari: Meta analysis of 128 dice roll studies, 50.02% hit rate in control group and 51.2% hit rate in experimental group. 

Bosch: analysed 380 studies using RNGs, found a very small but significant result

Methodological Issues:

  • In Bosch's study, most significant results were from early studies with small samples
  • Bosch commented on the possibility of publication bias and investigator effects
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  • refers to when two or more events happen by chance to occur simultaneously or in close succession leading to the assumption that they are linked.
  • Factors that account for the majority of coincidences include: A hidden cause, multiple end points and the law of truly large numbers

Falk: suggests that we find coincidence happening to us more suprising than when it happens to others, this is called the probability misjudgement hypothesis

Blackmore: questionaire in the daily telegraph consisting of 10 statements e.g 'I have a cousin called Jack', 6238 replies, mean propability of it happening to them = 2.4, imagined other = 3.6

Blackmore: Found no correlation between paranormal belief and misjudgement

Blackmore and Troscianko: asked participants to asses the likely hood of events, found no difference between believers/non-believers. Second larger study showed that believers did perform significantly worse

Musch and Ehrenberg: found a correlation between paranormal belief and probability judgement error rates, this disappeared when cognition was accounted for

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Superstitious Behaviour

Operant Conditioning: Suggests that superstitious behaviour is learnt, the superstitious ritual is positively reinforced (just by coincidence) and is negatively reinforced as it reduces anxiety. The individual forms an inaccurate casual relationship between the ritual and the postive reward.

Psychodynamic Functions Hypothesis: Some people view the world as chaotic and unpredictable, having a superstitious belief gives an illusion of control over future events and so reduces anxiety. This reduction in anxiety encourages the individual to repeat the behaviour

Skinner: Put hungry pigeons in a box, he noticed that some displayed odd behaviours that appeared ritualistic before being fed. He suggested that the pigeons had learnt the superstitious behaviour. This has not been replicated

Maute: A field experiment in a library. Participants sat at a computer that made a loud noise, they pushed buttons to make it stop, the noise randomly stopped and started again and participants were observed frantically pushing the button they had pressed when the noise stopped despite there being no relationship.

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Magical Thinking

Cognitive deficit Hypothesis: suggests that those who engage in magical thinking are "illogical, uncritical and foolish", it suggests that individuals lack the necessary cognitive skills to think in a more rational way. Suggests they will score poorly on a cognition test

Psychodynamic Functions Hypothesis: (same explanation as for superstitious behaviour)

Lindeman and Sayer: 1000 volunteers from finland, answered questionars, they found that superstitious people attribute purpose to non-living things and have immature and childish logic and cognition

Kienan: found that those living under threat in the gulf war showed higher magical thinking

Dudley: gave students either solvable or unsolvable anagrams, the unsolvable group showed higher levels of magical thinking

Wildman and Wildman: Found a negative correlation between belief and IQ

Jones: Found a positive correlation between belief and IQ

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Personality Factors

Personality factors that link to Paranormal belief include: Neuroticism. Extraversion (Honorton), External Locus of Control (Allen and Leicester), Fantasy Proneness, Sensation Seeking (Kumar) and Creativity. 

Williams: 293 participants from a Welsh school, assesed using the Junior Eysenck personality inventory and the Index of Paranormal Belief, found no correlation between extraversion and belief but found a +0.32 correlation between neuroticism and belief. Interestingly, 53% believed in ghosts and 41% believed in horoscopes

Wiseman and Watt: 4339 participants, asked to rate on a five point scale how strongly the statement "I tend to worry about life" related to them. Found a significant correlation between neuroticism and belief

Gianotti: asked participants to create a meaningful link between two words, found a correlation between the originality of the linking word and paranormal belief

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Psychic Healing

Placebo Effect: The individual thinks they are receiving an effective treatment so their condition  improves

Anxiety Reduction: Psychic healing often involves contact with a sympathetic person, this reduces the anxiety in the individual and so health improves as stress reduces.

Lyvers: 20 volunteers suffering from back pain, both groups were told the treatment was focusing on them. Carried out a pain questionaire before and after and while there was no difference between the control and experimental groups, belief did correlate with reduced pain.

Kreiger: found higher levels of heamoglobin in a group who had recieved psychic healing compared to a group who did not. Both groups had a similar range of illnesses. The experimental group still had higher heamoglobin levels one year later

Keller: 60 participants in a d ouble blind study. Experimental group received psychic healing and the control group received placebo touch therapy. The experimental group showed significant improvement

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Out of Body Experiences

Neurological Explanation: Suggests that an OBE occurs as a result of the right TPJ, an area in the brain that controls spatial perception and analysis of sensory input, misfiring. 

Cognitive Explanation: suggests that a breakdown in sensory input creates an OBE. When this occurs the brain attempts to reconstruct the visual field using memory and imagination causing an OBE.

Blanke: electrically stimualted the brain of an epileptic who had lesions to her right TPJ. She reported feelings of floating, an artificial OBE. When stimulating the brains of non-epileptics, they experienced difficulties perceiving their own bodies and did not expireince these difficulties when other areas of the brain were stimulated

Ehrsson: participants had video displays placed in front of their eyes showing a live film of their own back.Participants were prodded in the chest and the chest of the illusory body was prodded as well. They reported feeling as if they were sat behind themselves and that they could feel the illusory body being prodded. When the illosury body was threatened, the participants showed physical signs of distress.

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Near Death experiences

Neurological Explanation: suggests that when near death a huge amount of endorphines are released as a response to pain or stress. These create effects simular to that of opiods and may account for feelings of peacefulness and euphoria

Neurological Explanation: suggests that when dear death, hypoxia occurs and the brain is starved of oxygen, this causes unstable ceribral phyiology and may account for seeing a light. When hypoxia occurs the brain floods with glutamate which causes neuron death, to stop this occuring glutamate receptors are blocked and this causes the NDE

Ring: carried out 102 semi-structured interviews and identified core experiences as: feeling of deep peace and week being, seperation from the body, entering darkness or passing through a tunnel, seeing a light and entering a light or beautiful garden.

Jansen: found that the correct amount of ketamine administered by IV can recreate all aspects of an NDE, it causes the same glutamate blockage as near death hypoxia.

Augustine: looked at NDEs in different cultures. Found that in India, NDEs often involved encounters with Hindu figures and in Japan there was a lack of light

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Psychic Mediumship

Biological Explanation: this looks at the brain of mediums and suggests that when practicing, they are in an altered state of conciousness. Emphasis is placed on the role of the limbic system and it is suggested that a shift towards right hemipshere and parasympathetic nervous system occurs.

Fraud: Psychic mediumship does not exist and is a from of deception. The individual may actually believe they have a power and so may be unaware of this deception.

Newberg: looked at 5 expert and 5 less expert Brazillian mediums, carried out brain scans while writing psychography, found that experts had less activity in their limbic system and frontal lobes. Newberg suggested this was because the less expert mediums had to work harder.

Schwartz: looked at 5 mediums and two sitters, both female, over 40 and had both experienced a number of deaths. The sitters were separated from the medium by a screen and could answer yes or no. The sitters rated the mediums as 83% and 77% accurate. A control group of students rated them 36% accurate.

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