Sunday, October 14, 2007

Exploring Psychology: Explaining The Unexplained

Exploring Psychology

(Photo Credit: Miss Ruby Foo)

When I first started teaching psychology one of the first courses I was involved in was research methods in psychology. The first part of course looked at the experimental method, which among other things included getting the psychology students to conduct an experiment into whether people know when they are being stared at.

The feeling of being stared is said to exist in all cultures and can be found in historical folklore, the notion of the "evil eye" being a case in point. According to parapsychologists, the feeling of being stared at is an example of the mind extending beyond the physical brain and they point to experimental studies that appear to demonstrate a telepathic influence on the participants.

(Photo Credit: Yellow Mellow)

Another example of this "psychic" effect is suddenly thinking about a family member or friend who then calls you on the phone a few seconds later. At the forefront of this type of investigation is the biologist Rupert Sheldrake who believes that the person about to call is thinking about the person they intend to ring and that this intention reaches out ahead of the phone call.

In a series of experiments testing this phenomena, Sheldrake gets his participants to name 4 people they might be telepathic with, typically family members and friends. The participants then sit by a telephone (usually at home) while they are filmed. One of the four people on the participants list is then picked at random to ring the participant. When the phone rings the participant has to state who they think is calling before they answer the phone. Just by guessing people will be right on average 1 in 4 times i.e. 25% of the time. According to Sheldrake's results his participants were right on average 45%, a statistically significant result.

So does the work of Sheldrake and others really show that something paranormal is going on? Or is there a non-paranormal explanation? This is precisely the question that Anomalistic Psychology attempts to answer.

According to the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths College, University of London, "Anomalistic psychology may be defined as the study of extraordinary phenomena of behaviour and experience, including (but not restricted to) those which are often labeled "paranormal". It is directed towards understanding bizarre experiences that many people have without assuming a priori that there is anything paranormal involved. It entails attempting to explain paranormal and related beliefs and ostensibly paranormal experiences in terms of known psychological and physical factors".

Paranormal Vs Non-Paranormal Explanations

If you would like to learn more about the views of Rupert Sheldrake and how they contrast with proponents of Anomalistic Psychology, Click Here to listen to an excellent radio broadcast by the BBC. Please note that the relevant programme starts just over a minute into the recording.

Rupert Sheldrake Online

Lots of in depth material to look and the opportunity to participate in some fascinating experiments. These include:

  • The Precognitive Text Test

  • The Email Telepathy Test

  • The Photo Telepathy Test

  • The Online Staring Test

  • As noted on the website, if you would like to participate in the experiments, no previous experience is necessary, and the online tests can be done immediately. Most of these experiments are suitable for use in schools and colleges, and some make an excellent basis for psychology student projects.

    Click Here to visit the website.

    Telephone Telepathy

    Exploring Psychology

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