Psychic Mediumship, Psychic Healing and OOBE's

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Psychic Mediumship

Psychic mediums claim to be able to communicate with people in the afterlife of spirit world.


  • Sensitivity to cues - many clues that can help a medium (cold reading), e.g. picking up info from sitters tone of voice and replies to previous questions.
  • The Barnum effect - cold reader uses general statements that could apply to many people. Responses to these can be used later in conversation to convince listeners.
  • Fraud - medium may hire an accomplice to visit a regular sitter, during visit they may hide a possession and later the medium can tell the sitter where to find it.

Research Studies

  • Schwartz et al - tested 5 mediums, 2 women as sitters - both had experienced number of deaths recently. Mediums couldn't see sitters and only answered yes or no. Accuracy of mediums statements judged according to accuracy - 83% & 77%. Later judged by undergrads, 36% relevant so mediums performance well above chance (statements not general).
  • Rock and Beischel - 6  mediums spoke on phone to sitters. Sitters asked questions about their loved ones e.g. favourite hobbies. In one condition, loved one deceased, in other condition loved one alive. Significant differences found, supports psychic mediums.
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Evaluation of Psychic Mediums

  • Criticism of Schwartz' study - used undergrads to determine baseline of relevance. Statements written to apply to older women, not mean to be relevant to undergrads.
  • Contradictory evidence - O'Keefe and Wiseman arranged for 5 mediums to give readings for 5 sitters. Each sitter read 25 readings and rated personal relevance. Ratings were lowest for those written for them.
  • Sheep-goat effect - quality of research is poor. Most people are happy to believe without evidence so lack of motivation for good research. Tends to be positive results from believers and negative results from non-believers.
  • Willingness to be deceived - many sitters are aware of the general statements but remain convinced. Wiseman - being so deeply absorbed allows you to overlook facts.
  • Research rarely peer reviewed
  • Vunerable selective sample - people who have experienced loss
  • Does give people comfort.
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Psychic Healing

Psychic healing refers to treatments used to deal with health problems by purely mental means.


  • Energy fields - Therapeutic touch is explained by supporters in terms of the ability to detect a patient's aura. Health is restored by re-alligning the energy field.
  • Anxiety reduction - can be explained by the beneficial effects of contact with a sympathetic person - social support reduces stress and anxiety, enhancing immune system.
  • Placebo effect - 'real improvement as a result of believing that an effective treatment has been received'. Beliefs may be based on some success stories. Actual successes may be due to spontaneous or temporary recovery.

Research studies

  • Wirth TT-  studied patients with wounds who were treated with TT or no treatment. Patients unaware of treatment received. Those treated with TT healed faster.
  • Rosa et al- 21 TT practitioners, sat on side of screen and put hands through holes. Experiment placed their hand just above practitioners. They should be able to detect energy but only correct 44% of the time.
  • Effects of prayer - Wirth got group of Christian strangers who prayed for infertile women. No-one prayed for other group of women. Those prayed for 2x as likely to become pregnant.
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Evaluation of Psychic Healing

  • Power of belief - Lyvers et al - 20 volunteers all suffering from chronic back pain assigned to either treatment or control group (unaware). All ppts told psychic was focusing on them. Effect of healing assessed using McGill Pain Questionnaire. No overall reduction in pain. However, extent of pain reduction linked with belief in psychic healing.
  • Lack of support for placebo effect - patients recovering from heart surgery, 1 group control and 2 other groups told they were being prayed for (1 of these 2 a placebo - not really prayed for). No benefit in placebo group, only group to suffer complications were those prayed for.
  • Criticism of Rosa et al's study - study designed by 9 year old however research published in reputable, peer reviewed American Medical Association. TT supporters say study didn't involve ill people so aura not detected. Weakens evidence against TT.
  • Heat-detection hypothesis - Long et al used ordinary people in a replication of Rosa's study. Hand placed about 3 inches from experimenter, results better than chance. They could detect the heat from hand. In a study where body heat eliminated, results were not significant.
  • Criticism of Wirth - Failed to replicate wound healing study and researchers never able to contact him. He has since been convicted of criminal fraud and jailed. Weakens support.
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Out of Body Experiences

OOBE's refer to sensation of being awake and seeing your own body from a location outside your body. OOBE's usually linked with relaxation. It is accepted that OOBE's are real.


  • Paranormal explanations - suggest something beyond our understanding occurs. Idea that body and mind separate from one another.
  • Biological explanations - OOBE's related to sensory disturbance e.g. when sensory input breaks down the brain attempts to reconstruct what we are seeing using memory and imagination. Memory images are often birds eye view.

Research studies

  • Natural OOBE's - Green studied 400 accounts of OOBE's, 20% parasomatic (body present), some asomatic (no second body). 25% of cases associated with some sort of stress, 12% occured during sleep.
  • Artificially induced - Alvardo reviewed range of lab studies when OOBE induced e.g by relaxation, hypnosis. Participants asked to read things out of sight, Miss Z was able to. Striking result however may be flawed methodology.
  • Biological studies - Blanke - induced OOBE accidentally by stimulating temporal-parietal junction (TPJ) in a woman suffering epilepsy. Stimulation of other areas = no OOBE.
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Evaluation of Out of Body Experiences

  • Paranormal explanations - evidence doesn't support these explanations. e.g. Alvardo's review didn't find evidence that parasomatic body moved out of physical body. Some exceptional cases can be explained by flawed methodology e.g participant saw target image beforehand.
  • Biological explanations - suggests OOBE'S relate to sensory disturbance. Blanke et al's study supports biological explanations and importance of TPJ. Ehrssons study also supports biologial explanations.

Ehrsson's study

  • 42 ppts stood in front of camera while wearing video display goggles. The ppts could see their own back and a 3D virtual body stood in front of them. Pen used to stroke ppts back, was replacated on back of virtual body. Ppts commonly reported that sensation was of pen stroking virtual body. When mannequins body stroked instead of ppts and projected onto virtual body, people still reported feeling themselves being stroked by pen.
  • When experiment finished, ppts asked to stand where they were positioned before - participants overshot and stood where virtual body was.
  • Shows how sensory disturbance could lead to an OOBE.
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Evaluation Continued

  • Methodological issues with Ehrsson's study - sample size small and volunteer sample may not be representative (may all be believers).
  • Ethical issues - lack of informed consent, confidentiality was maintained. These issues weaken support.
  • Positive impacts of research - brings OOBE's to the lab to get better understanding.
  • Artificial vs. natural OOBE's - difficult to study natural OOBE's because they occur without predictability. Even if researcher was present, OOBE would cease as soon as ppt reported it.
  • Most research into OOBE's is artificial, lack external validity.
  • Some researchers say artificial OOBE's are not the same as natural OOBE's.
  • Individual differences - No evidence to suggest OOBE's linked to mental illness
  • Individual differences  - OOBE's more often reported in believers of the paranormal.
  • Individual differences - People who have OOBE's more fantasy prone - score higher on test of hypnotisability.
  • Reductionism - Scientific reductionist view is that mind is product of chemical processes. Mind may be a separate entity.
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Near Death Experiences


  • Psychological explanations- some people hold paranormal beliefs which lead them to interpret things in terms of paranormal experiences. E.g. NDE's are spiritual experiences.
  • Biological explanations;

Endorphins are released at times of pain or stress and these can lead to feelings of euphoria and detachment.

Hypoxia may be cause as it may cause REM intrusions which create a mixed sleep/awake state thst could disrupt sensory information.

Hypoxia creates flood of neurotransmitter glutamate which causes neuronal death. As a defence, the brain creates a blockade, and this blockade may be cause of NDE.

Research study:

  • Naturally occurring NDE - Ring interviewed 100 people who had NDE's and found 60% reported peace, 33% reported OOBE, 25% entered a tunnel and some had a 'life review'.
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Evaluation of Near Death Experiences

  • Artificially induced NDE - Jansen - experimented with ketamine and found it produced classic symptoms of NDE's. Ketamine found to trigger same blockade as glutamate.
  • Psychological explanations - NDE's not experienced by all near-death survivors suggesting there is a psychological factor in experiences.
  • Spiritual explanation - van Lommel et al followed 344 cardiac survivors over 8 years and found that those who had an NDE felt it was life changing and a spiritual experience. Those who didn't have an NDE continued to fear death. Suggests it is a spiritual experience but doesn't suggest its caused by spiritual factors.
  • Cultural differences- Augustine - presented a comprehensive review of NDE's in different cultures and provided examples such as in India they involved encounters with Hindu figures and in Japan no light was reported. There were also similarities, e.g. going through a tunnel, OOBE's and sense of peace. Suggest both psychological and physiological factors involved.
  • Early studies may lack appropriate controls which weakens any research support. E.g. interviewer bias - interviewers beliefs may affect conclusion.
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