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JSPR Abstracts 2008

January 2008

The Andover Case: A Responsive Rapping Poltergeist

by Barrie G. Colvin

An investigation into alleged poltergeist activity has been carried out at a house in Andover, Hampshire. The principal phenomenon was that of rapping sounds that, by means of a code, could produce meaningful messages. Attempts were made to exclude natural causes, including the transfer of the raps to objects that were under the close scrutiny of the observers. Effects were recorded which bear similarities to other rapping cases.

ESP of Emotions using Skin Conductance as Indicator of Psi

by Peter Ramakers

There is evidence that emotions play a role in the occurrence of psi, but the exact role of emotions is not well understood. This study investigated the possibility that emotional reactions of a 'sender' could be detected unconsciously by a 'receiver' who was located in a sensorially shielded room. Positive, negative and neutral pictures from the IAPS were shown to the sender while the receiver's skin conductance was measured. 54 participant pairs were tested. It was predicted that both positive and negative pictures would result in increased receiver skin conductance activity as opposed to neutral pictures, and that positive and negative pictures would have differential effects. The dependent variables were mean log transformed skin conductance and mean variance of skin conductance. The results showed no significant difference between the emotional and the neutral conditions and no effect of the combined emotional conditions on mean variance. A differential analysis of the positive, negative and neutral conditions showed that mean log skin conductance was highest in the negative condition, but not to a significant degree. There was, however, a strong trend for the mean variance to be lower in the positive condition (² = 8.197, df = 2, p = 0.017, two-tailed). Overall, the results revealed a pattern of higher activation in the negative condition. Methodological issues and directions for future research are discussed.

Putting Magnetism in its Place: A Critical Examination of the Weak-Intensity Magnetic Field Account for Anomalous, Haunt-type Experiences

by Jason J. Braithwaite

A growing number of laboratory studies have shown that anomalous haunt-type experiences can be artificially induced by applying temporally complex, weak-intensity magnetic fields to the outer cortex of the brain. Although this neuromagnetic field theory has merit, it is important to place the account in an appropriate context based on the best available evidence. The present paper discusses the magnetic field account, its biophysical plausibility and its limitations. Important findings from high-intensity and mid-intensity magnetic field studies, as well as weak-intensity magnetic field studies, are reviewed. A discussion of a recent failure to replicate the effects of weak magnetic fields on consciousness is also provided. It is argued that future research should concentrate on independent double-blind laboratory-based replications of the effects and on producing more explicit biophysical mechanisms for an interaction between weak magnetic fields and the human brain. Some novel speculations on potential mechanisms of interactions between weak magnetic fields and the brain are also suggested. It is concluded that, although the magnetic field account has much to commend it, it is important to acknowledge that it is neither uncontroversial nor comprehensive in its current form.

April 2008

The Historiography of Psychical Research: Lessons from Histories of the Sciences

by Richard Noakes

This paper surveys the different uses to which history has been put, and the different historiographical perspectives adopted, in psychical research and related enterprises since the mid nineteenth century. It contrasts recent historiographies of the sciences with those employed from the late eighteenth century to the 1960s, and shows how these and other developments in the practice of history have dramatically changed our understanding of the places occupied by psychical research and the 'occult' in 'orthodox' sciences and wider culture. The second half of this paper outlines some of the key ways in which we can proceed still further in the shift towards better situating psychical research in its contemporary scientific contexts and abandoning rigid and ultimately unhelpful distinctions between 'science' and 'pseudo-science'. I suggest that by deepening our understanding of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century scientific cultures - their troubles as well as successes - we can better appreciate why psychic phenomena were considered fit topics of scientific research. In conclusion I consider the suggestion that eclecticism is a virtue and necessity in history and suggest that it is precisely because my discipline, the history of science, is more eclectic than many that it is and will continue to be a fruitful resource for developing our histories of psychical research.

The Sense of Being Stared at: An Automated Test on The Internet

by Rupert Sheldrake, Charles Overby and Ashwin Beeharee

In previous research on the sense of being stared at, participants worked in pairs, with the starer behind the staree. In a series of 20 randomized trials, the starer looked or did not look at the staree, who had to guess 'looking' or 'not looking'. We here describe an exploratory automated, internet-based version of this standard staring experiment. In 498 tests, each with 20 trials, the computer gave an automatic sound signal to indicate when each trial began. The average hit rate was 53.0% (p < 1 10-6); 268 participants scored above the chance level of 10 out of 20, 150 below, and 80 at the chance level. There was no significant difference between male and female starees, and little effect of starees' age. The highest hit rates were with parent-child participants. Hit rates were significantly higher when starees received trial-by-trial feedback, but there was no increase in the second half of the test compared with the first. Although these tests were unsupervised, the results replicated many of the features of previous tests and illustrate the potential for carrying out research through the internet, enabling widespread participation.

The Sense of Being Stared at: Do Hit Rates Improve as Tests Go On?

by Rupert Sheldrake

Simple experiments on the sense of being stared at have given repeatable, positive results that are highly significant statistically. In these experiments, people work in pairs. The staree sits with his or her back to the starer, who either looks at the back of the staree's neck, or looks away, in a random sequence. In each trial, the staree has to guess whether or not the starer is looking. However, when Marks and Colwell (2001) and Lobach and Bierman (2004) conducted tests of this kind, some of their experiments gave results not significantly different from chance, and they attempted to explain the positive results in staring tests as artifacts. Their hypotheses predict that positive scores should arise only in trials with feedback, only in trials with one particular kind of randomization, and that scores should increase towards the end of the experimental session. I have examined the data from the first and second halves of more than 19,000 trials to test these predictions. Both with and without feedback, and also with different randomization methods, the scores were positive and statistically significant in both the first and the second halves of tests. With feedback there was a small increase in scores in the second halves, but this was not statistically significant. Without feedback, there was a tendency for the scores to decline. In a trial-by-trial analysis of one large-scale experiment, the highest hit rate occurred in the very first trial for starees who were about to receive feedback, before any feedback had actually been given! Thus the beneficial effect of feedback may depend not so much on the feedback itself as on the state of mind of the participants.

July 2008

Conceptual Metaphor: A Meaning-Oriented Approach for Parapsychology

by Carl Williams

Cognition is mostly unconscious and metaphorical. Accounts of paranormal experiences and parapsychological theory could benefit from an examination of the metaphors around which they are based. A meaning-oriented approach for parapsychology based upon conceptual metaphor theory is discussed and the entailments of seeing science, mind and experience as framed by metaphors are considered.

The Effect of Closeness of Relationship on Interpersonal Psychopraxia in a Free-response Study Evaluated by both Response-ranking and Target-ranking Methods

by Michael A. Thalbourne

This paper rather belatedly reports a dual-purpose drawing-reproduction experiment, the first part of which was carried out as the author's Honours thesis (Thalbourne, 1976). Eighteen pairs of 'close-relaters' and 13 pairs of 'non-close-relaters' were tested for interpersonal psychopraxia with 10 target-drawings and 10 corresponding response-drawings. The first part of the two-part study was a process-oriented one, namely, to examine the effect of closeness of relationship, evaluated initially using a 'response-ranking' (RR) technique; that is, an independent judge was presented with the 10 response-drawings produced by a given percipient and was asked to rank them, preferentially, in relation to one target-drawing. The main results - comparing close- and non-close-relaters - were non-significant, but there was strong evidence for a sheep-goat effect. The second aim of the study was to analyse the same drawing data produced in the first part but using a 'target-ranking' (TR) technique; that is, a judge was presented with the 10 target-drawings viewed by the agent and was asked to rank them preferentially in relation to one response-drawing. In both RR and TR techniques, three independent judges were used for each 'evaluation-group', and the three ranks were averaged. It was found that individual trial-scores using RR and TR techniques were least correlated, that agent/percipient pair overall scores (mean rank and total number of binary hits) were next highest in correlation, while participant-group means were very similar indeed. Moreover, the TR method confirmed the existence of a sheep-goat effect, though somewhat differently distributed throughout the subgroups of participants.

The Ingeborg Dahl Case Revisited

by Adrian Parker and Annekatrin Puhle

The Ingeborg Dahl case, in which a medium while in trance correctly predicted the date of her father's accidental death, has remained for decades an enigma of psychical research. The report here presents the main material and conclusions from the psychological investigation of the Dahl mediumship conducted by the Norwegian Court. These were previously unavailable in English and released only during the 1970s. The psychological aspects of the case illustrate modern concepts of dissociation.

October 2008

Psi may Look Like Luck: Perceived Luckiness and Beliefs about Luck in Relation to Precognition

by David P. Luke, Deborah Delanoy and Simon J. Sherwood

Smith (1998) has shown that different people use the term 'luck' to mean different things, some of which may be used euphemistically to account for psi experiences. However, previous luck-psi experiments have only measured luck via the Perceived Personal Luckiness (PPL) scale without investigating what participants actually mean by the term, so in this study luck beliefs were measured using the Questionnaire of Beliefs about Luck (QBL). Previous literature indicates that luck might best be understood in terms of Stanford's model of 'psi-mediated instrumental response' (PMIR), so 100 participants completed a PMIR-inspired non-intentional precognition experiment with static fractal images as targets, and depending on success experienced either a task involving erotic images (psi incentive) or a boring vigilance task (psi disincentive). The mean psi score over ten forced-choice trials was 2.85 (MCE=2.5), which gives a significant overall precognition effect (t[99] = 2.508, p = 0.014, r = 0.244). Furthermore, scores on the PPL and the Luck subscale of the QBL were found to correlate significantly with precognition performance (r = 0.263, p = 0.008 for both). However, only the Luck subscale was found to be a significant predictor variable of psi score (adjusted R2 = 0.06, t[99] = 2.7, p = 0.008), indicating that beliefs about luck are more relevant to psi performance than PPL alone. Psi task performance was also related to belief in psi (rs[98] = 0.236, p = 0.02) and suggestively with belief in the paranormal (rs[98] = 0.194, p = 0.10), offering tentative support for the notion that psi ability drives belief initially. Precognition performance was also found to be suggestively higher among the erotically reactive than the erotically unreactive active (t[99] = 1.65, p = 0.10), offering indirect support for the experiment's validity and the need-serving aspect of PMIR. A number of other exploratory hypotheses are discussed. The findings support the suggested relationship between luck and psi but further investigations should consider beliefs about luck and not just perceived luckiness.

Extraversion and Performance at a Forced-choice ESP Task with Verbal Stimuli: Two Studies

by Chris A. Roe, Sarah J. Henderson and Jason Matthews

Two studies were conducted to explore the putative relationship beteween extraversion and performance at a forced-choice ESP (FC-ESP) task while avoiding possible artefacts associated with group testing and with providing ESP test feedback before completing personality measures. In Study 1, 80 participants were tested individually and completed two measures of extraversion - Eysenck's (1963) EPI Form A, and Costa & McCrae's (1985) NEO-FFI scale - before completing a 45-trial FC-ESP run. Each trial consisted of a set of five thematically related words. The response sheet was presented - following the Anderson-White technique - as a 5 x 45 table printed on a sheet of A4 paper attached to a sealed opaque envelope that contained individually produced target lists. All sessions were invigilated by the second author. The overall hit rate was 9.21, which does not deviate significantly from mean chance expectation (MCE) of 9.00 (1-sample t(79) = 0.62, p = 0.54). As predicted, performance did covary positively with extraversion scores on the EPI measure (r = 0.21, p = 0.03), but did not on the NEO measure (r = 0.05, p = 0.34). In Study 2, 49 participants completed two 20-trial FC-ESP runs using word-based and Zener symbol stimuli presented as in Study 1. They also completed Eysenck's short-form EPQ-R (Eysenck, Eysenck & Barrett, 1985). Performance on both tasks was only marginally better than MCE of 4.00 (for Zener stimuli, M = 4.24, 1-sample t(48) = 1.02, p = 0.16; for word stimuli, M = 4.37, 1-sample t(48) = 1.28, p = 0.10). The correlation between extraversion and FC-ESP performance on the word-based task failed to reach significance (r = 0.17, p = 0.13), but the relationship with performance on the Zener task was significant (r = 0.36, p = 0.01). No relationship was evident for either task with neuroticism, and conducting partial correlations between extraversion and ESP scores that controlled for neuroticism gave negligible differences from zero-order correlations. Psychoticism showed a marginally significant negative relationship with performance on the word task but not with the Zener task (r = -0.26, p = 0.04 and r = 0.01, p = 0.47 respectively).