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Pseudoscience and parasychology

Paranormal Activity

Encompasses the activity of ghosts, demons, and also unexplainable phenomena.


The study of paranormal and psychological.

Anomalistic psychology

The field of psychology which investigates the human eperience of paranormal activity, without assuming it really exists.


Fake science that makes claims witha sceintific sound but very little scientific basis.

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Features of pseudoscience and real science


  • objective and reliable?
  • rejects theories/evidence?
  • Tests theories?
  • Peer review?
  • Jargon
  • Existing knowledge and predictions?


  • relies on flawed methodology and anecdotal evidence
  • rejects evidence that doesnt fit their theories
  • presents unfalsifiable hypothesis
  • leaves proof to sceptics, confirming rather than refuting own theory
  • avoids peer review
  • used imprecise and comp;lex jargon without obvious meaning
  • fails to connect with existing knowledge, preventing progress.

Occams razor- the simplest explanation must be accepted over the compelx one, if all otehr thngs are equal.Pseudoscience has very complex explanations, so occams razor would not apply.

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Ganzfield and ESP

ESP- is extra sensory perception which involves gaining information through the mind.

  • The reciever is placed in a room with halve dping pong balls over their eyes, with red light light shining through them. They are also played white noise through headphones.
  • This is called sensory deprivation. It is used because ESP could be very weak, and may be drowned out by excess noise.
  • A sender in another room observes a randomly chosen target and trie to mentally send this information to the reciever.
  • The reciever is then shown a couple of possible targets, and must choose the image they think they recieved. 
  • There are usually three decoys, giving an chance of 25%.
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Ganzfield studies and findings

Honroton claimed that 23 out of 42 ganzfield studies  he reviewed had a hit rate higher than 25%.

The meta analysis of 30 ganzfield involved 1198 trials and found a hit rate no greater than 25%.

Bem and Honorton carried out another meta analysis and found that hit rate differed between recievers. Those who believed in paranormal, extroverts, and creative poeple had a higher hit rate.  However, no other researchers found these effects.

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Problems with Ganzfield studies; sensory and rando

Sensory leakage

This is when information arout the target reaches  reaches the reciever through normal perception. This could be body language, or even the look of cards after they have been shuffled or chosen. The resear her could even give cues.

This would affecr the internal validity, as its not just the 'mental recpetion' of a image affecting the recievers choice. Therefore, if the hit rate seemed higher than normal chnace, this could be due to sensory leakage.

Non randomization of targets

it is always possible that target is not dufficeintly ransomized, and that the 2nd or 3rd choice is more common thatn others.  French reports that people are always less likely to choose the last option, so the actual chance could be 1/3.

The images chosen at first by a 'unbiased' researcher may still be subjecte dto these unconcious preferences. This woul make the chance of choosing the correct raget more probable, and so the hit rate woukd look like it was easily manipulatable by ESP.

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Problems with Ganzfield studies; repeatability and

Bad repetition and variation of procedure

The replicability of the procedure is reduced, and results cannot be called consistent. Reduced replicability means ther euslts cannot be justified, and are not reliable.  Meta analyses should especially only use repatbale data.

Statistical analysyes

Sometimes when a researcher fails to get a significant result, the results are analysed differently e.g. outliers are removed. This is acceptable if the reulst are then followed up with anotehr experiment. 

However, pseudoscientists rarely do more repeats, and sceprics are quick to pounce on manipulation of data. If makes their results seem signioficant and therefore ESP, when it actually might not be.

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Macro PK

Moving objects by intention alone where the movemnet can been clearly seen.

MIcro PK

affects very small objcts, it controls ranom events and makes them non-random.

Early micro PK experiments focused on the  ability to influence the roll by mental intention, and results looked priomising. By the sleight of a hand can bevery effective on choosing a number.

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Methodological issues relating to PK: MACRO


This has never been convincingly displayed in controlled conditions. Some people refuse to be tested under controlled conditions, otehrs are exposed as frauds. It is possible that PK exists but it is upset by stark and controlled conditions of a lab.

However,it seems more likely that Macro PK doesn't exists, as any thing that relies on something other than the act of the mind on  an object doesn't really count as Macro PK.

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Methodological issues: PK: MICRO


Radin and Ferrari conducted a meta Analysis of 128 dice trowing studies, whoch involved 2500 participants. They found a very small effect. 50.02% hit rate in control group, and 51.2% hit rate when PK was exerted. The difference is small but could significant in such a large study.

A loaded die, or a skilled die thrower would effect the internal validity and cause the data to be biased. Also, they could have chosen studies that showed significant effects, so the meta nalausis could be biased overall.

This would mean that the small effect that PK seems to have would actually be down to validity problems.

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meta analysis of micro PK


analysed 380 studies involving random number generators and also found a very small effect. However he noticed that earlier studies, with small samples, showed more signficant results. This is the opposite to usual studies, where more refined studies later show better results.

Small studies have small sample size, leading to low populational validity. 

Small studies may be less controlled.

Replication leads to lower significance as problems are rectified.

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Publication Bias and PK

PUBLICATION BIAS- only successful sugnificant findings are often published, so the meta analysis is mor elikel to show  sugnificance. Thi is aclled the file darw effect, as insignificant results are filed away.

This is bad for meta analysses,as so much data leading to a seemingly significant finding can be very influential.

Investigator effects may also lead to bia; if a researcher is Pro-PK, the reearcher could encourage correct amswers through body langauge and eye direction.

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Explanations: Coincidence

Diaconis and Mosteller identified 3 factors:

  • A hidden cause may explain a coincidence.
  • Multiple end points make a coincidence more likely e.g. a dream about an old friend dying, is replaced by a childrens TV presenter being hurt (they allowed the tv presenter to be the friend, and being hurt to equate to dying.) 
  • Law of truly large numbers; if there are enough opportunities, even an unliely coincidence will come true. Across the world, billipons of dreams occur everynight; someone is bound to dream something that correlates to a future happening.
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Explanations: Probability judgements


People find coincidences happening to themsleves far more surprising than when they happen to other people.


She issued a questionnaire in the daily telegraph with 10 simple statements. People had to answer the statements true or false for themselves, and then predict how many would be true for a random stranger. She recieves 6238 replies. 

Findings: The mean socre for one self was 2.4, and the prediction for someone else was 3.6

evaluation: large sample size leading to a high population validity. However daily telegraph is not representative. People may have lied about the genuine belief, due to social desirability.

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Probability judgement and paranormal beliefs

Blackmore and Troscianko

  • Initial study showed no difference in probability between anomolamous believers and non-believers.
  • Later, larger study, showed that those with anomalous beliefs perfomed significantly worse.
  • Positive for probability judgements theory, as larger, corrected study showed a more significant result.

Musch and Ehrenberg

  • Discovered an overall correlation between paranormal beleifes and error rates on probability reasoning tasks.
  • However, when taking cognitive ability into account (looking at secondary school grades) the correlation disspeared. So apparent differences could just be due to diferences in cognitive ability.
  • Negative for theory, as coginitive ability is a indicator of probability judgement, therefore the cognitive deficit hypothesis could be more accuarte.
  • HOWEVER- are secondary shcool resulst an accurate representation of IQ?
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SUPERSTITIOUS BEHAVIOUR:operant conditioning


Superstitious behvaiour is whem someone falsely believes that one occurence causes another.

Behaviourists would say that operant conditioning can cause superstitius behvaiour e.g. wearing a pair of soc,,s winning the game, wearing them always in case they made you win the game.

The win reinforces the behaviour positively. The anxiety relieved by wearing the socksis negative reinforcement.

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superstitious behvaiour: skinners pigeons


Skinners pigeons

Put hungry pigeons in a bo and fed them. Over time, they began behaving strangeky e.g. spinning around anticlockwise ebfore the arrival of food. He failed to repeat the experiment. Also, pigeons often act strangely.

It could support the theory, as the pigeons began to believe they would be fed if they span around.  However, thsi odd behaviour could just be conicidental. Unable to genralise to humans. Only one finding, long time ago, no repeats.


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Superstitious thinking: Maute and cultural variati


Set up a library where the computers ade loud noises. People pressed various buttons to change it, and then continued to us ethe button that they had clicke dhwen it turned off. Even if the button was not the cause, they pressed it. This is superstitious behaviour.

Low ecological validity, as it doesnt relate to the supernatural. It is more trickery than study of superstistion.

Cultural influences

Unlucky numbers vary from country to country e.g. UK= 13, Thailand = 9

This leads to socil learning theory, as of your role models and parents believe in these superstitions, children will also believe in them. In this way superstitions pass from generation to generation

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Magical Thinking: Cognitive Deficits

Magical Thinking: When someone believes two or more events are casually connected in the persons mind with no concers for whether that causal link in actually accurate.

Irwin called people who engaged in magical thinking as 'illogical, irrational, credulous, and foolish'.

He thought people think magically because they do not have the cogntibe resources to think rationally and logically. Those who engage in magical thinking should score lower on cogntive tasks than a control group.

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Magical Thinking: Cognitive deficits studies

  • Wildman and Wildman found that IQ will corrleate negatively with supersition (e.g. the lower your IQ, themmore superstitions you will believe in)
  • Watt and Wiseman found no correlation.
  • Jones found a positive relationship (the higher your IQ the more likely you are to believe in superstitions.

Lindeman and Saher

Do adults with superstituous beliefs have a childishness to attribution of purpose, intention in inaminate objects?

  • 1000 volunteers from Finland take a questionnaire
  • 116 most superstitious and 123 most sceptic them surveyed by email.
  • Those who were more superstitious attributed more purpose and intention to inanimate objects.
  • Researchers concluded that the susperstitious had child-like reasoning skills, and that their thinking processes were immature.
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Cognitive deficits studies evaluation

  • The correlation studies lack causality
  • Temporally invalid ('74, '02, 77') The most recent had no conclusive evidence.
  • The evidence is very inconsistent and doesn't point to any correct answer.

Lindeman Saher's

  • Big sample - 1000 ppts
  • Relatively recent -2007
  • Only Finland-- not populational valid for whole world
  • Attributing puropse to inaminate objects is not the same as beleiving causal links, tehrefore low face validity, and internal validity.
  • Uses surveys and questionnaires which are easy to lie on, or interpret in the wrong way.

The evidence is not compelling for us to conclude that cognitive deficits plays a large role in magical thinking.

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Cognitive deficits: IDA + Practical Apps

IDA- Socially sensitive, soft determinism and practical applications

It calls thoe who in egage in magical thinking inferiro to those who don't. It is sympathetic to their case at all, and could cause upset with such extreme descriptions.

Soft determinism; if you are cognitively inefficient you WILL think magically! There seems to be only a small matter of choice. This isn't true in the real world as many people who are very clever believe in supersttions, and stupid people who dont. 

Very few practical applications; it says if you are cognitivelu deficient, you will beleive in superstitions and there is nothing you can do about it

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Magical Thinking: Psychodynamic approach

Psychodynamic approach

People who see life as chaotic and unpredictable are anxious and could use magical thinking to create a seeming control over random events. 

Examples ae rituals  to stop bad things from happening.

Magical Thinking beocmes a coping strategy. It shoudl increase in time sof war or uncertainty.

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Magical Thinking: Psychodynamic studies

Dudley 1999

Students had to attempt solvable or unsolvable anagrmas. Those attempting the unsolvable anagrams did not know they were impossible to solve.

  • Those in the unsolvable condition increased their level of superstitious thinking.
  • Findings were replicated.

This supports the theory because it says those who were frustrated or anxious by the inability to solve the anagram, may have felt out of control, chose to think more magically, so asto lessen the anxiety. This justifies the psychodynamic theory.

Keinan 1994

Found that those living under threat during the Gulf War scored higher on measures of magical thinking than those which werent under threat.

This justfies the theory, as in time sof war, anxiety and lack of control increases. Therfore, the increase in magival thinking is expected, and this study proves it.

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Magical Thinking: Psychodynamic studies evaluation

Dudley has very high face validity, as the frustration of an uncontrollable event lead to more superstitious behvaviour.

CAUSALITY?? TRUE!! superstitious belief was measured before and after, and it increased after the unsolvable anagram.

Low ecological validity as in a laboratory


High ecological validity as a real life situation.

CAUSALITY?? perhaps the gulf war happened to attack an area with high levls of supersitoious belifes, due to social learning theory. In this case, it wuld not be a coping strategy causing the higher levels.

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Psychodynamic approach: IDA


Socially Sensitive

People who believe in superstitions and magic wouldn't want to be told their belief is just a way for them to ontrol random events. They don't want to think their beliefs are just a product of their anxiety. Often, you get confident people who believe in superstitions.


It is saying if someone is anxious they are far more likely to develop magical thinking. This would hardly vb true the huge sceptics. Or is someone who had very strong beliefs in magical thinking or superstitions, that they would lose these beliefs when relaxed or safe. 

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Psychodynamic approach: Practical Apps

Practical Applications

People may not want to lose their magical thinking, so any practical applications may be offensive. 

However, teaching other coping strategies may be useful in different situtaions, and help reduce anxiety in a more efficient way.

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Peronslaity Factors: Extraversion


This is when someone is confident, assertive, outgoing and very social. 

Honorton conducted a meta analysis whoch showed a pisitive correlation between extroverted traits and ESP.

Extroverts may be more open to new stimuli, or sensory leakage.

Honorton, Bem and Ferrari reported that extroverts were more likely to believe in the supernatural and report anomalous findings.

Extroverts may be atention seeking, and want to stand out as having strange or differnet views.

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Fantasy Proneness and Sensation seeking TO DO

Fantasy proneness

These individuals are open to inner and outer words. They will entertain novel ideas.

Wilson and Braber found that fantasy prone individuals have a more vivid imgaintaions, including daydreams, and can sometimes be confused to what it real or imagined.

Sensation seeking

People who are more  likely to take risks to experience something out of the ordinary.

Smith and Johnson found that sensation seeking perosnlaity traits can be a predictor of paranormal beliefs.

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Neuroticism: williams et al

Neuroticism is constantly being a in negative state, and are more likely to experience anxiety, anger, guilt and depression.

Psychodynamic approach would suggest these people ar emove likel to beleive in paranormal, as it allows control and reduces anxiety.

Williams et al

293 participants students (13-16) were measured on th Index of Paranormal Belief (which uses a 5 pointy scale and is a questionnaire), and also their personality traits.

Findings: No correlation between paranormal beliefs and extraversion, but a moderate and significant correlation between neurotisiscim and paranormal beliefs (+0.32). 52.7% believed in ghosts and 40.8% believed in horoscopes.

This study shows that those with neurotic traits are more likely to have magical thinking, as a singificant correlation was found.

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Neuroticism studies evaluation


  • Both have good sample size (293 and 4339)
  • Both use standardised questionnaires and scales


  • Correlations not causality
  • Simplistic procedure that could be open to demand characteristsics (there is stigma around appearing both neurotic and believing in the paranormal.)
  • Wiseman and Watt particularly simplistic- just one question!
  • Williams- all students in wales so small populational validity.
  • Volunteer bias for Williams.


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Neuroticism IDA


Socially sensitive:

If those who are neurotic find relief in paraormal beliefs, taking them away could be disturbing. They may also worry about believing the paranormal, as if its a bad thing

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Creativity studies


asked participants to think up words that meaningfully connected two others. He found a positive correlation between originality of the words and paranormal beliefs.


This supports the idea that creativity is linked to paranormal beliefs. 

face value is questionable as the ability to link words shouldn't be considered a true measure of all creativity. 

Correlation isn't causality. Anomalous beliefs may lead to greater creativity as they seek ways to justify their beliefs.

This shows that this evidence isn't enough to justify the creativity hypothesis.

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Neuroticism: Wiseman and Watt

Wiseman and Watt

4339 were tested using a single neuroticism item scale- 'I tend to worry about life.' This was then correlated with the rest of teir paranormal beliefs.

Findings: There is a correlation between neurotisicm and belief in the paranormal.

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Locus of control

Locus of Control

Internal control- you are the only influence over the thing sthat happen to you.

External- you have no influence or control over the thigs that happen to you.

TOBAK- found a link between external  locus of control and belief.

Allen and Lester- belief had a positive correlation with external locus traits.

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