Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

In the past there have been many discussions about the relationships between psychology and parapsychology. An example is Gertrude R. Schmeidler’s Parapsychology and Psychology: Matches and Mismatches (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1988). I have discussed aspects of this topic recently in “Psychology and Parapsychology” (In R. McLuhan [Ed.], Psi Encyclopedia. London: Society for Psychical Research).

Gertrude Schmeidler 2

Gertrude Schmeidler

The purpose of the article is to discuss the interrelationship of both fields in terms of psychological research findings, psychological theories, and various contributions of parapsychology to psychology. “Psychic phenomena,” I wrote, “manifest dynamic aspects, and personality and cognitive variables, suggesting they are part of normal psychological processes.”

In two sections I covered correlates of ESP experiments. This includes various personality and cognitive variables, as well as attitudes. “Experimental studies suggest that ESP is associated with relaxed states . . . Laboratory dream studies and ganzfeld experiments have also shown evidence for ESP . . . Some believe that the partial sensory deprivation produced by ganzfeld conditions favors ESP. Others are less convinced of this, arguing that factors other than ASCs are involved . . . – something that must be generally considered in research with psychological variables.” 

Regarding survey studies “ESP experiences, and sometimes other phenomena such as seeing apparitions and auras, have been reported to be related to fantasy proneness . . . The same may be said of other psychological constructs: absorption; . . . boundary thinness; an openness to experiences such as emotions, intimacy and daydreaming; . . . dissociation; . . . emotional empathy; . . . hypnotic susceptibility; . . . transliminality; and a predisposition for experiencing emotions, imagery, thoughts or other psychological material from the unconscious regions of the mind . . .”  Research with other phenomena such as OBEs and mediumship is also briefly discussed.

I also summarize several psychological concepts and theoretical models developed to make sense of psychic experiences. “The idea that ESP is processed unconsciously has a long history . . . Myers . . . thought that telepathy was handled by the subliminal regions of the mind, and this idea can be seen in different ways in the writings of researchers to the present day.” The work of Carpenter, Eysenck, Irwin, and Stanford is mentioned. Summarizing James Carpenter’s ideas, I wrote: “James Carpenter . . . has proposed the most detailed psychological model to date, which he calls First Sight. The model assumes that psi is working continuously, but unconsciously, and that it is the initial contact our minds have with the world: first sight, so to speak. Such psi processes, like sensory and motor ones, are part of our usual cognitive processes, directed by unconscious intentions and mediated by goals, needs and dispositions. They interact with and make use of psychological resources such as memory, creativity, and conscious and unconscious perception. They are expressed primarily by inadvertent but potentially accessible experiences and behaviors. All behavior and experience are thought to begin at the psi level of transaction, even if we are not aware of it. The process is not seen as a special ability, but rather as a basic aspect of human beings, and perhaps of all sentient creatures.”

Jim Carpenter 2

James C. Carpenter


Carpenter First Sight

I argue, as have others before me, that parapsychology has made many contributions to psychology. For one. It has helped to extend the range of human experiences.

There have also been contributions regarding conventional explanations of various phenomena. “Certain influential psychological explanations of OBEs have been developed in the context of parapsychology, notably by Blackmore . . . Irwin . . . and Palmer . . ., contributing to the orthodox view of mind’s potential to generate hallucinatory experiences.”

Another area of contributions has been that of clinical issues. This includes ESP phenomena in the context of psychotherapy, and the difficult issue of differential diagnosis. Some work has been conducted in relation to trauma and schizotypy, but this area is in need of more detailed empirical explorations.

The study of psychic phenomena has also contributed to the concept of personal transformation, as seen in worth conducted with near-death experiences. The same may be said about human potential: “To accept some of the phenomena of parapsychology would have clear implications for human potential, greatly expanding our ideas about our capabilities. ESP implies that we can perceive future events, information hidden at a distance, and the thoughts or intentions of a distant person. Furthermore, to accept that such phenomena have no conventional explanation carries conceptual implications about the nature of consciousness.”

The latter brings us to the issue of nonphysicality. Traditionally ESP and other phenomena have been interpreted by many as evidence of the independence of the mind on the physical body. An acceptance of such conclusion, and this is still debatable, would have great implications about the nature of human beings.

Psychology cliparts

“Work on near-death experiences, reincarnation cases, mediumship and related topics has tended to promote ideas of transcendence . . . It should be pointed out that parapsychology embraces diverse views, and the ideas summarized here are not necessarily all shared by its practitioners . . . But they have in common a tendency towards the view that mind is more than the physical body – a classic problem of psychology.”

For bibliography click here, here, and here.