research into exceptional experience

  • Created by: ava.scott
  • Created on: 15-02-15 10:48

Psychic Healing explanations


People think they are receiving an effective treatment. This leads them to improve unconciously.


Psychic healing is a form of social support because you have interaction with a sympathetic person. This promotes relaxation, reduction in anxiety and promotes healing. Keicolt-Glaser's studies show stress can lead to illness.

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Psychic Healing: evidence 1 Lywers

Australian study by Lyvers

20 participants with chronic back pain

All were told they were receiving treatment from a psychic healer, but only half were. They were kept separated from the healer, who focused on one half. No significant difference was found between the two groups pain levels (using questionnaires), so no evidence of psychic healing was found. However, those who were believers in the healing showed greater pain reduction. Therefore belief plays a role in success of psychic healing.


This supports the placebo effect explanation, as the social support aspect was removed, and those with beliefs were better effected. This shows the power of the mind and beliefs can be used to create a better impact from psychic healing.

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Psychic Healing: evidence 2 Kreiger


Looked at the blood haemoglobin levels in participants who had received psychic healing from Oscar Estabany, vs those with similar conditions but no treatment.

those who had received the healing treatment had higher levels of haemoglobin.


This supports the anxiety reduction explanation, and also placebo effect. Those who had received treatment from Oscar felt relaxed and less stressed. This leads to better health, growth and more haemoglobin produced.

 However, it can't completely justify that Oscar doesn't have powers, as on face value , it seems to show he has helped his patients.

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Psychic Healing: evidence 3 Keller


double blind study- 60 participants assigned randomly to a placebo 'touch therapy' and a real 'touch therapy'.

Those who received the real therapy showed greater improvements.


This evidence seems to justify the existence of psychic healing through touch therapy. However, it could be that the therapist admistering real therapy has greater practice and confidence and so gave a more convincing treatment, leading to greater placebo effect or anxiety reduction.

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Psychic Healing research evaluation

Inconsistent research which all support different explanations.

Lyvers study is

  • very well controlled, with randomly assigned groups,
  • repeatable, and 
  • questionnaires can become quantifiable
  • Isolates the placebo effect from the social support effect.
  • Very small amount of ppts, and questionnaires are open to demand characteristics and social desirability bias. 

Kreiger used a

  • natural study design which isn't repeatable and has a lot of different factors. 
  • He didnt control for lifestyle (those who could pay for Oscar may have been able to pay for other improving treatmnents.) 
  • Didn't isolate the anxiety reduction explanation. 
  • HOWEVER, high ecological validity.
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Psychic Healing research evaluation 2

Keller criticisms

  • Insufficient placebo
  • Sampling problems
  • random allocation not random.


No, because some studies suggest it exists and attempts to explain it, but cannot disprove it. The Keller study seems to justify its existence.

The placebo effect is more convincing, as it encompasses the relaxation anyway 'I feel relaxed after that, I should get better now'. it is isolated verge effectively in the Keigler study, but more repeats should be done to fully justify it.

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Psychic healing: why is it so difficult?

The small amount of emprirical data is not very convincing. They have very small samples, or are nor properly controlled.

We cannot make conclusions becaus ethe data isn't relaible or repeatable. It alcks internal and external validity, in that the IV isn't isolated, and when it is, psychic ehalers say the artificial envrionment stops their powers.

Psychic healers often have many pseudoscientfic traits.

  • compelx jargon
  • avoiding peer review
  • anecdotal evidence


Gives people real relief and this is positive.

However, targets the vulnerable who are desperate, and takes money off people for no proven effect.

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OBE: Explanations

  • Neurological

The temporal-parietal junction (TPJ) is involved in our spatial percepton and the analysis of sensory information. When it misfires, it could cause an OBE.

  • Cognitive

Sensory input breaks down and the brain attempts to reconstruct the visual field using imagination and memory. They often see a bird eye's view. When senory input is returned, the OBE ends.

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OBE: Evidence 1 Blanke


A woman with epiliepsy had lesions on the TPJ area of her brain. The are was electrically stimulated, and artifically induced an OBE and a 'floating' sensation.

Blanke also displayed our reliance on teh TPJ for spatial perception in people without epilepsy. He stimulated the TPJ using transcranial magnetic stimulation, and the aprticipants had problems with perception of their own body. They didn't experience the difficulties when other parts of teh brain were stimulated.


This supports the neurological explanation because it shows the action of the TPJ, and its effect on spatial perception. Stimulus of the TPJ directly lead to OBE like symptoms such as floating .

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OBE: Evidence 2 Ehrsson


demonastrated an OBE can be created in a lab by scrmping sensory and touch input. They did this by placing video displays infornt of people's eyes, which showed their back. The researcher then pokes both them, and the camera at the same time. The participants recorded a feeling of their own body, but also the 'alter ego' body. When the alter ego was threatened, the people showed obvious stress symptoms (perspiration.)


Supports the cognitive explanation as it shows how our visual and touch senses lead to our perception of the body, as we can craete the feeling of a new body when provided the stimulus. Scrambling the senses lead the brain to create a new sensory perception, made up by the imagintation and memory.

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OBE: Research evaluation

Both studies are set in very artifical environments and so have low ecological validity.

  • Blackes first study was on one idividual so has very low populational validity.
  • However, it does show how how that one area affects OBE, but other parts of the brain may be involved too.


  • Ehrssons study didn't control for the neurological explanation, and so we cannot say for sure that the cognitive explanation is merely a way to induce the neurological mechanism.
  • His participants may show demand characteritics.

The neurological mechanism is more convincinga s the research uses more emprical, scientirfic methods.

However, both studies only descirbe one symptom of OBE -lack of body perception- they do not describe other sympotoms such as observing live events, going to other places. The explanations are a bit vague e.g. (the area misfires, or sensory input is scrambled-- how?) Neurological exp. is reductionist.

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NDE: Explanations

  • Endoprhins

The endorphns released near death are a response to stress or pain, but can also produce a feeling similar to opoids, which give feelings of peace and euphoria.

  • Oxygen starvation

When near death, brain hypoxia occurs (when the brain is starved of oxygen) This causes ustable cerbal physiology and results in the symptoms such as seeing lights. The brain may flood with glitamate; of there is too much, the brain blocks glutamate receptons resulting in NDE symptoms.

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NDE: Evidence 1 Ring

Carrie dout semi structured interviews of 10 people who had experience NDE's. They reported similar core experiences; deep peace and well being, seperation from the body, darkness, and light at the end of the tunnel.

These feelings of peace support the endoprhin explanation, as the chemical gives feelings of euphoria near death to reduce stress.

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NDE Evidence 2 Jansen

Induce NDE's using ketamine, which causes the same blockage as glutamate. Many similar symptoms to NDE were recorded.


Supports the glutamate hypothesis, where the blockage (simlarlyblocked by ketamine) creates the symptoms of the NDE, such a seperateness and a light.

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NDE: Evidence 1 CULTURAL


Reviewed cases of NDE's in different cultures and found that NES's differed between cultures, In India, people encountred Hindu fgigures, and in Japan tehre was a lack of light as seen in the west.

This doesnt support either explanation, and proves there may be a social coginiove element to the NDE. If the experience was entirely biological, the same symptoms would be experienced everywhere around the world, as we are iologically the same. NDE;s reflect differences in culture and society.

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NDE: Evaluation

Difficult to study because:

  • small population valifity as a rare occurence
  • ethics- cannot induce a NDE!
  • demand characteristics- self reporting could eaisly lead to the participant syaing what they thought the researcher wanted to hear.

The Neurological explanations are quite reductionist, as not just one explains for all the detil that people experince in NDE's.

Ring's study has high ecological validity as the NDE's were real. Semi-structured interviews are good as they allow rich detail to be recorded. Small sample size- 102, but perhaps reasonable for sucg a niche group of people.

Jansen's has low face validity as ketamine has little to do with real life NDE's, and tehrefore thereis also low ecological validity.

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Psychic mediumship: Explanations


  • altered state of conciousness/trance
  • Limbic systemis dominated by the right hemisphere
  • Also a sominance is the parasympathetic nervous system

Cold Reading

  • Non-psychic skill of the medium
  • Asks vague questions and picks up on small characteristics of the person they re reading
  • This allows them to make judgemnets and assumptions that seem psychic
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Psychic Mediumship: Evidence 1 Newberg


Studies 5 expert and 5 non-expert psychic mediums.

They were brain scanned whilst writing ormally and when practising psychography- when a deceased person wirtes though them.

The brain scan showed loower activity in the left had side of the limbic system and less in the frontal lobes, during a trance state. This was significnatly more obvious in the 5 expert psychic medoums.

Newberg suggested the non-experts had to work harder to go into the trance state.

He also commented that the study cannot prove or disprove psychic medumship, but it does show that something different is occuring inthe brain.

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Psychic Mediumship: Evidence 1 Schwartz

5 mediums were filmed by an American TV network.

Two women who has recently experienced a number of deaths were the sitters.

The mediums were seperated from the women by the screens, and the women could only answer yes or no.

The women judges the accuracy to b bwteen 83 and 77%. They checke dthat the statements were not generic by getting a control group of students to rate them- they came out as only 36% accurate.


On the surface, it seems to suggets that psychic mediumship exists. However, it could actually be explained by cold reading, as the mediums could pick up on the womens tone of voice, hesistations and answers. A screen would not fully stop the cold reading from taking place.

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Psychic Mediumship: Evidence 3 O'Keeffe and Wisema

O'Keeffe and Wiseman

Highly critical of Shwartz's study so carruied out a repeat and found no evidence of psyhci mediumship.

The psyhcics were placed in seperate rooms to the sitters, and were never allowed to meet. Each psyhcic produced a reading for each sitter(5), so 25 readings were produced. The sitter read evry reading and rated them for personal relevance. The sitter'sown readings actally had the lowest marks, and those readings with the most geeral statements were the more personally relevant.


Supports cold reading, because as soon as the face-to-face intercation between sitter and medium is removed, the personal relevance goes down. The general statemnst were alsways more personal, which is a key trait of cold reading, as everyokne thinks the staents are true for themselves.

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Psychic mediumship evaluation:

Newbergs study shows that, for those 5 mediums, there is a definite trance like state involved in their practice. However, this may only be true for these few mediums, and not the others- low popuational validity. 

Didn;t control for the rain just during relaxation, or normal people trying to go into a trance like state.

Doesn't really prove the existnec or cmechanism of Psychic mediumship, juts hpw easily someone can manipulate their own brain.


  • low populational validity
  • huge sensory elakage
  • TV programme wanted an interesting result
  • control group was completely different so the statements were alays going to look irrelevant. This made the finings look more significant than they were.
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Psychic mediumship evaluation:2

O'Keeffe and Wisemans study seemed to justify the cold reaing explanation, and the bad methodlogy of Shwartz's study.

Psychic mediumship is not very likely to exist, and the cold reading, whether the medium is aware of it or not, allows the information to be collected via normal sensory input.

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