in the parapsychological literature today. The SPR became the model for similar societies in other European countries during the late 19th century, such as those in France, Germany, and Poland. Largely due to the support of William James, the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) opened its doors in New York City in 1885.
Today, the SPR and ASPR continues its investigations into anomalous phenomena. The SPR's purpose, as stated in every issue of its Journal is "to examine without prejudice or prepossession and in a scientific spirit those faculties of man, real or supposed, which appear to be inexplicable on any generally recognized hypothesis."
The Rhine era
In 1911, Stanford University became the first academic institution in the United States to study ESP and PK in a laboratory setting. The effort was headed by psychologist John Edgar Coover. In 1930, Duke University became the second major US academic institution to engage in the critical study of ESP and PK in the laboratory. Under the guidance of William McDougall, and with the help of others in the department, including Karl Zener, Joseph B. Rhine and Louisa E. Rhine, ESP experiments in the laboratory and in buildings on campus began, using volunteer subjects from the undergraduate student body. As opposed to the approaches of psychical research, which generally sought qualitative evidence for paranormal phenomena, the experiments at Duke University proffered a quantitative, statistical approach using cards and dice. As a consequence of the ESP experiements at Duke, standard laboratory procedures for the testing of ESP evolved and came to be adopted by interested researchers throughout the world.
The publication of J.B. Rhine's book, New Frontiers of the Mind (1937), brought the laboratory's findings to the general public. In his book, Rhine established and popularized the word "parapsychology", which Max Dessoir had coined over forty years earlier, to describe the research conducted at Duke. Rhine also founded an autonomous Parapsychology Laboratory within Duke, and started the Journal of Parapsychology, which he co-edited with McDougall.
The parapsychology experiments at Duke evoked much criticism from academic psychologists who challenged the concept and evidence of ESP. Rhine and his colleagues addressed these criticisms through new experiments, articles and books, and summarized the state of the criticism along with their responses in the book Extra-Sensory Perception After Sixty Years (1940). The administration of Duke grew less sympathetic to parapsychology, and after Rhine's retirement in 1965, parapsychological links with the university were broken. Rhine later established the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man (FRNM) and the Institute for Parapsychology as a successor to the Duke laboratory. In 1995, the centenary of Rhine's birth, the FRNM was renamed the Rhine Research Center.
Establishment of the Parapsychological Association
The Parapsychological Association (PA) was created in Durham, North Carolina, on June 19th, 1957. Its formation was proposed by J. B. Rhine at a workshop on parapsychology, which was held at the Parapsychology Laboratory of Duke University. Rhine proposed that the group form itself into the nucleus of an international professional society in parapsychology. The aim of the organization, as stated in its Constitution became "to advance parapsychology as a science, to disseminate knowledge of the field, and to integrate the findings with those of other branches of science". In 1969 the PA was elected an affiliate of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the largest general scientific society in the world. The PA consists of about three hundred full, associate and affiliated members worldwide, and maintains its affliation with the AAAS today. The annual AAAS convention provides parapsychologists with a forum for presenting their research to scientists from other fields and for advancing parapsychology in the context of the AAAS's lobbying on national science policy
A decade of increased research (1970s)
The affiliation of the Parapsychological Association (PA) with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, along with a general openness to psychic and occult phenomena in the 1970s, led to a decade of increased parapsychological research. During this period, other notable organizations were also formed, including the Academy of Parapsychology and Medicine (1970), the Institute of Parascience (1971), the Academy of Religion and Psychical Research, the Institute of Noetic Sciences (1973), the International Kirlian Research Association (1975), and the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Laboratory (1979). Parapsychological work was also conducted at the Stanford Research Institute during this time.
The scope of parapsychology expanded during these years. Ian Stevenson conducted much of his controversial research into reincarnation during the 1970s. Thelma Moss devoted time to the study of Kirlian photography at UCLA's parapsychology laboratory. The influx of spiritual teachers from the East, and their claims of abilities produced by meditation, led to research on altered states of consciousness. Russell Targ introduced the term remote viewing in 1974.
During this period, academics outside parapsychology also appeared to have a general optimism towards this research. In 1979, a survey of more than 1,100 college professors in the United States found that only 2% of psychologists expressed the belief that extra-sensory perception was an impossibility. A far greater amount, 34%, indicated that they believed ESP was either an established fact or a likely possibility. The percentage was even higher in other areas of study. 55% of natural scientists, 66% of social scientists (excluding psychologists), and 77% of academics in the arts, humanities, and education believed that ESP research was worthwhile.
The surge in paranormal research continued throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s. By the end of the 1980s the Parapsychological Association reported some 300 members working in more than 30 countries. Additionally, research not affiliated with the PA was being carried out in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
Despite the surge of interest in the 1970s, contemporary parapsychological research has waned considerably. Early research was considered at best inconclusive, and parapsychologists found themselves faced with strong opposition from their academic colleagues. Some effects thought to be paranormal, for example the effects of Kirlian photography, disappeared under more stringent controls, leaving new avenues of research at dead-ends. Many university labs in the United States have closed, citing a lack of acceptance by mainstream science as the reason, leaving the bulk of parapsychology confined to private institutions funded by philanthropic sources. Other laboratories, notably the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Laboratory (PEAR), closed feeling they had accomplished their goal of proving the existence of parapsychological effects, despite the lack of acceptance by mainstream scientists. PEAR ended its active research in February 2007, having performed tens of millions of trials over 28 years.
Parapsychology hasn't disappeared, however. The Parapsychological Association (PA) remains affiliated with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Two universities in the United States have academic parapsychology laboratories. The Division of Perceptual Studies, a unit at the University of Virginia's Department of Psychiatric Medicine, studies phenomena suggestive of the survival of consciousness after bodily death. The University of Arizona's Veritas Laboratory conducts laboratory investigations of mediums. Several private institutions, including the Institute of Noetic Sciences and others, conduct and promote parapsychological research. Outside the United States, the field is more active. Britain leads parapsychological study in Europe, with privately funded labs at the universities of Edinburgh, Northampton and Liverpool Hope, among others.
Parapsychology has also been absorbed into other fields of psychology. These related fields include transpersonal psychology, which studies transcendent or spiritual aspects of the human mind, and anomalistic psychology, which examines paranormal beliefs and subjective anomalous experiences in traditional psychological terms.
Parapsychologists employ a variety of approaches to the study of psi, a generic term described by parapsychologists as indicating anomalies that may be attributed to paranormal phenomena. These methods include qualitative approaches used in traditional psychology, but also quantitative empirical methodologies. Their more controversial studies involve the use of meta-analyses in examining the statistical evidence for psi.
The ganzfeld (German for "whole field") is a technique used to test individuals for telepathy. The technique was developed to quickly quiet mental "noise" by providing a mild, unpatterned sensory field to mask the visual and auditory environment. In the typical ganzfeld experiment, a "sender" and "receiver" are isolated, the receiver is put into the ganzfeld state, and the sender is shown a video clip or still picture and asked to mentally send that image to the receiver. The receiver, while in the ganzfeld, is asked to continuously speak aloud all mental processes, including images, thoughts, feelings. At the end of the sending period, typically about 20 to 40 minutes in length, the receiver is taken out of the ganzfeld and shown four images or videos, one of which is the true target and three are non-target decoys. The receiver attempts to select the true target, using perceptions experienced during the ganzfeld state as clues to what the mentally "sent" image might have been.
Chance expectation predicts that the correct target would be selected about 1 in 4 times, for a 25% "hit rate." The results of scores of such experiments, and over 3,000 individual sessions conducted by about two dozen investigators world-wide, have been interpreted by investigators as indicating that the target image is selected on average about 32% of the time. Because the results are statistically significant as interpreted, they have sparked debates within mainstream academic psychology in the journals Psychological Bulletin and The Humanistic Psychologist over how to interpret the data.
Remote viewing experiments test the ability to gather information on a remote target consisting of an object, place, or person, etc., that is hidden from the physical perception of the viewer and typically separated from the viewer at some distance. In one type of remote viewing experiment, a pool of several hundred photographs are created. One of these is randomly selected by a third party to be the target. It is then set aside in a remote location. The remote viewer attempts to sketch or otherwise describe that remote target photo. This procedure is repeated for a number of different targets. Many ways of analytically evaluating the results of this sort of experiment have been developed. One common method is to take the group of seven target photos and responses, randomly shuffle the targets and responses, and then ask independent judges to rank order or match the correct targets with the participant's actual responses. This method assumes that if there were an anomalous transfer of information, the responses should correspond more closely to the correct targets than to the mismatched targets.
Several thousand such trials have been conducted by dozens of investigators over the past 25 years, including by the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Laboratory (PEAR) and by scientists at SRI International and Science Applications International Corp., under contract by the US government. In a 1980 issue of Nature, the cumulative data was interpreted by researchers as indicating that information about remote photos, actual scenes, and events can be perceived beyond chance expectation.
Psychokinesis on random number generators
The advent of powerful and inexpensive electronic and computer technologies has allowed the development of fully automated experiments studying possible interactions between mind and matter. In the most commmon experiment of this type, a Random Number Generator (RNG), based on electronic or radioactive noise, produces a data stream that is recorded and analyzed by computer software. A subject attempts to mentally alter the distribution of the random numbers, usually in an experimental design that is functionally equivalent to getting more "heads" than "tails" while flipping a coin. In the RNG experiment, design flexibility can be combined with rigorous controls, while collecting a large amount of data in very short period of time. This technique has been used both to test individuals for psychokinesis and to test the possible influence on RNGs of large groups of people.
Major meta-analyses of the RNG database have been published every few years since appearing in the journal Foundations of Physics in 1986. Researchers say that the effect size in all cases was found to be very small, but consistent across time and experimental designs, resulting in an overall statistical significance. The most recent meta-analysis was published in Psychological Bulletin, along with several critical commentaries. The meta-analysis was comprised of 380 studies, which researchers say has produced an overall effect size that was very small but statistically significant.
Direct mental influence on living systems
This experimental domain was previously called "bio-PK." More recently, researchers refer to it as 'direct mental interactions with living systems' (DMILS). It studies the effects of one person's intentions on a distant person's psychophysiological state.
One type of DMILS experiment looks at the commonly reported "feeling of being stared at." The "starer" and the "staree" are isolated in different locations, and the starer is periodically asked to simply gaze at the staree via closed circuit video links. Meanwhile the staree's nervous system activity is automatically and continuously monitored. The cumulative data on this and similar DMILS experiments have been interpreted by the researchers to suggest that one person's attention directed towards a remote, isolated person, can significantly activate or calm that person's nervous system, according to the instructions given to the starer. A meta-analysis of these experiments published in the British Journal of Psychology in 2004 was interpreted by researchers to indicate significant evidence in favor of the DMILS effect.
Near death experiences
A near-death experience (NDE) is an experience reported by a person who nearly died, or who experienced clinical death and then revived. NDEs include one or more of the following experiences: A sense of being dead; an out-of-body experience; a sensation of floating above one's body and seeing the surrounding area; a sense of overwhelming love and peace; a sensation of moving upwards through a tunnel or narrow passageway; meeting deceased relatives or spiritual figures; encountering a being of light, or a light; experiencing a life review; reaching a border or boundary; and a feeling of being returned to the body, often accompanied by a reluctance.
Interest in the NDE was originally spurred by the research of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, George Ritchie, and Raymond Moody Jr. Moody's book Life after Life (1995) brought a great deal of attention to the topic of NDEs. The International Association for Near-death Studies (IANDS) was founded in 1978 in order to meet the needs of early researchers and experiencers within this field of research. Later researchers, such as Bruce Greyson, Kenneth Ring and Michael Sabom, introduced the study of Near-death experiences to the academic setting.
A number of studies conducted in the American, European, and Australasian continents have found that a majority of people surveyed report having had experiences that could be interpreted as telepathy, precognition, and similar phenomena. Variables than have been associated with reports of psi-phenomena include belief in the reality of psi, the tendency to have hypnotic, dissociative, and other alterations of consciousness, and, less reliably so, neuroticism, extraversion, and openness to experience. Although psi-related experiences can occur in the context of such psychopathologies as schizotypal personality, dissociative, and other disorders, research has shown that most individuals who endorse a belief in psi are well-adjusted, lack serious pathology, and are not intellectually deficient or lack critical abilities.
Critics of parapsychology question the field's status, arguing that the work is unscientific, partly because it lacks a framework within accepted scientific models, and partly because after decades of research it hasn't presented evidence that they say provides conclusive results.
Controversy over scientific status
The scientific reality of parapsychological phenomena and the validity of parapsychological research is a matter of continued criticism. The methods of parapsychologists are regarded by some critics as a pseudoscience. Some of the more specific criticisms, as addressed by James E. Alcock, state that parapsychology does not have a clearly defined subject matter, an easily "repeatable" experiment that can demonstrate a psi effect on demand, nor an underlying theory to explain the paranormal transfer of information. Additionally, Alcock said that few of parapsychology's experimental results have prompted interdisciplinary research with more mainstream sciences such as physics or biology. Alcock states that parapsychology remains an isolated science to such an extent that its very legitimacy is questionable.
Controversy over experimental results
Although some critics feel that parapsychological study is scientific, they are not satisfied with its experimental results. Critics contend that apparently successful experimental results in psi research are more likely due to sloppy procedures, poorly trained researchers, or methodological flaws than to genuine psi effects. For example, critics have said that parapsychologists misuse meta-analysis to create the incorrect impression that statistically significant results which indicate psi phenomena have been obtained.
Selective reporting has also been offered by critics as an explanation for the results of psi research. A recent meta-analysis combined 380 studies on psychokinesis, including data from the PEAR lab. It concluded that although there is a statistically significant overall effect, it is not consistent and relatively few negative studies would cancel it out, so biased publication of positive results could be the cause.
There have been instances of fraud in the history of parapsychology research. Soal-Goldney experiments of 1941-43 (suggesting precognitive ability in subjects) were long regarded as some of the best in the field because they relied upon independent checking and witnesses to prevent fraud. However, many years later suspicions of fraud were apparently confirmed when statistical evidence, uncovered and published by other parapsychologists in the field, suggested that Dr. Soal had cheated by altering the raw data. Another parapsychologist, Walter J. Levi, Jr.'s also falsified experimental results. He was caught by J.B.Rhine and asked to step down from his position as director for the Institute for Parapsychology.
No scientific field is immune to instances of fraud or deception by its researchers. However, parapsychologists have to be especially alert to deception on the part of their subjects. Fraud undoubtedly played a part in creating the positive reputations of Spiritualist mediums who were caught in the act of cheating. In the 1920s, magician and escapologist Harry Houdini said that researchers and observers could not create experimental procedures which absolutely preclude fraud. In 1979, magician and debunker James Randi perpetrated a hoax, now famously referred to as Project Alpha. Randi trained two young magicians and sent them under cover to Washington University's McDonnell Laboratory with the specific aim of exposing poor experimental methods and credulity thought to be common in parapsychology. Although no formal statements or publications from the McDonnell laboratory supported the likelihood that the effects demonstrated by the two magicians were genuine, both of Randi's trainees reportedly deceived experimenters over a period of four years with demonstrations of supposedly telekenetic metal bending. Such methodological failures have been cited as evidence that most, if not all, extraordinary results in parapsychology derive from error or fraud.
Laboratories, organizations and journals
There are two academic laboratories devoted to parapsychological studies in the United States. The Division of Perceptual Studies, a unit at the University of Virginia's Department of Psychiatric Medicine, studies phenomena suggestive of the survival of consciousness after bodily death. The University of Arizona's Veritas Laboratory conducts laboratory investigations of mediums.
North America is also home to several research organizations promoting parapsychological research, such as the American Society for Psychical Research and the Parapsychology Foundation in New York City, the Instituto de Latinoamericano de Parapsicologia in Queretaro, Mexico, The International Association for Near Death Studies in Connecticut, the Rhine Research Center in Durham, North Carolina, and the Society for Scientific Exploration, with officers throughout the U.S.
The major parapsychological journals that are published in North American are Journal of Parapsychology, Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, Journal of Scientific Exploration, and International Journal of Parapsychology. Other North American journals that have published articles on parapsychological topics include Psychological Bulletin, The Humanistic Psychologist, Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Alternative Therapies, Behavioral and Brain Science, Science, and Proceedings of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers.