Parapsychology (PSYL10026)

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Parapsychology (PSYL10026)

The course assumes that most students have had little or no previous exposure to research in parapsychology. Parapsychology is defined as the scientific investigation of apparent new means of communication or influence between the organism and its environment, known as ‘psi’. The course does not presume that psi exists, but treats this as a scientifically-testable hypothesis and reviews the findings of laboratory psi research. Moving out of the lab, we also examine people’s real-life ‘paranormal’ experiences and beliefs, and the models that have been put forward to understand these. Finally, we consider the wider scientific implications of parapsychology.

Option Aims

  • To provide an overview of the principal methods, findings, and issues in parapsychology.
  • To encourage critical thinking about scientific claims, in parapsychology and beyond.

Learning Methods and Resources

The course will be primarily taught in lecture format, with students being expected to read each week’s key references beforehand. These are listed below. Materials (summary handouts; powerpoint slides; podcasts; list of recommended readings) are posted on Learn. Hard-to-find and popular readigs are on reserve with Karen Fleet. Further general background readings, downloads of Koestler Parapsychology Unit research publications, FAQs, links, etc. are available at:

The Koestler Parapsychology Library (Room G5) contains parapsychology journals and conference proceedings that cannot be found online, as well as an extensive collection of books, undergraduate dissertations, and postgraduate theses on parapsychological topics.

Thursdays 09:00 - 10:50
Semester 1, Block 1
7 George Square, Room S.1
What is Parapsychology?
Terminology. Different approaches to research in parapsychology, and their advantages and disadvantages. History of parapsychology and psychical research.
7 George Square, Room S.1
20/09/2018 - 9:00am to 10:50am
Experimental Procedures
ESP research methods. Choices in ESP testing. PK research methods. Methodological considerations – eliminating error, leakage, artefact, fraud.
7 George Square, Room S.1
27/09/2018 - 9:00am to 10:50am
ESP and PK Research Findings
Replication and meta-analysis in parapsychology. ESP research findings: The ganzfeld debate. PK-RNG research findings. EDA-DMILS research findings.
7 George Square, Room S.1
04/10/2018 - 9:00am to 10:50am
Understanding Paranormal Experiences
The phenomenology of paranormal experiences. Measuring and categorising belief in the paranormal. Four theories of belief in the paranormal.
7 George Square, Room S.1
11/10/2018 - 9:00am to 10:50am
Theories and Implications of Parapsychology
The major theories of psi (psychological and physical theories). The implications of parapsychology: methodological; experimenter effects; metaphysical.
7 George Square, Room S.1
18/10/2018 - 9:00am to 10:50am
Learning Outcomes: 

On completion of this course, the student will be able to:

  1. Students will become familiar with: - The main methods used for controlled laboratory testing of claims of anomalous information transfer or influence;
  2. The findings of meta-analytic reviews of ganzfeld-ESP, PK-RNG, and DMILS research.
  3. The phenomenology of spontaneous paranormal experiences and the models that have been proposed to explain why people have these experiences.
  4. The methodological challenges involved in testing claims of anomalous communication or influence.
  5. Factors leading to scientific controversies, and ways to help resolve controversies.


Lecture 1: 

Edge, H.L., Morris, R.L., Palmer, J., & Rush, J.H. (1986). Foundations of Parapsychology: Exploring the Boundaries of Human Capability.  Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Chapters 1-3.

Irwin, H.J. & Watt, C. (2007). An Introduction to Parapsychology. Fifth Edition. London:  McFarland. Chapters 1-3.

Lecture 2: 

Edge, H.L., Morris, R.L., Palmer, J., & Rush, J.H. (1986). Foundations of Parapsychology: Exploring the Boundaries of Human Capability.  Boston:  Routledge & Kegan Paul. Chapters 5 & 9.

Milton, J. & Wiseman, R. (1997). Guidelines for Extrasensory Perception Research. Hatfield, England: University of Hertfordshire Press.

Lecture 3: 

Storm, L., Tressoldi, P.E., & Di Risio, L. (2010). Meta-analysis of free-response studies, 1992-2008: Assessing the noise reduction model in parapsychology. Psychological Bulletin, 136, 471-485. (also see comment by Hyman and response by Storm et al. in same issue; you can use Storm et al. as a starting point to locate earlier ganzfeld meta-analyses mentioned in the lecture, for supplementary reading.)

Bosch, H., Steinkamp, F., & Boller, E. (2006). Examining psychokinesis: The interaction of human intention with random number generators – A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 132, 497-523. (also followed by commentaries)

Schmidt, S., Schneider, R., Utts, J., & Walach, H. (2004). Distant intentionality and the feeling of being stared at: Two meta-analyses. British Journal of Psychology, 95, 235-247. (You will find an updated review of this line of research in Cardeña’s Handbook, ref below.)

Lecture 4: 

Irwin, H.J. (2009). The Psychology of Paranormal Belief: A Researcher’s Handbook. Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press. (copies in library)

Watt, C., Ashley, N., Gillett, J., Halewood, M. & Hanson, R. (2014).  Psychological factors in precognitive dream experiences:  The role of paranormal belief, selective recall and propensity to final correspondences.  International Journal of Dream Research, 7, 1-8.  (open access)

Valášek, M., Watt, C., Hutton, J., Neill, R., Nuttall, R. & Renwick, G.  (2014).  Testing the implicit processing hypothesis of precognitive dream experience.  Consciousness and Cognition, 28, 113- 125.

Lecture 5: 

Irwin, H.J. & Watt, C. (2007).  An Introduction to Parapsychology. Fifth Edition. London:  McFarland. Chapters 8 & 17.

Millar, B. (2015). Quantum theory and parapsychology. In Cardeña, E., Palmer, J., & Marcusson-Clavertz, D. (2015).  Parapsychology: A Handbook for the 21st Century.  New Jersey: McFarland. Chapter 13.

Watt, C.  (2005).  2005 Presidential Address:  Parapsychology’s contribution to psychology:  A view from the front line.  Journal of Parapsychology, 69, 215-232.  (available on KPU website)

Watt, C., & Kennedy, J. E. (2015).  Lessons from the first two years of operating a study registry.  Frontiers in Psychology, 6 (open access).

Supplementary specialist readings

For latest developments in ganzfeld:  look at the KPU Study Registry for an example of study registration and prospective meta-analysis of ganzfeld ESP research:

Bem, D. J. (2011). Feeling the future: Experimental evidence for anomalous retroactive influences on cognition and affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 407-425. Debate continues on Bem replications, e.g.  2015 meta-analysis of Bem-style studies:

Braud, W.G. (1978). Psi conducive conditions: Explorations and interpretations. In B. Shapin and L. Coly (Eds) Psi and States of Awareness (1977) (pp. 1-34). New York: Parapsychology Foundation.

Irwin, H.J. & Watt, C. (2007). An Introduction to Parapsychology. Fifth Edition.  London:  McFarland. Chapters 4-7. (Reviews earlier lab ESP and PK research.)

Palmer, J. (1989a). Confronting the experimenter effect: Part I. Parapsychology Review, 20(4), 1-4.

Palmer, J. (1989b). Confronting the experimenter effect: Part II. Parapsychology Review, 20(5), 1-5.

Schlitz, M., Wiseman, R., Watt, C., & Radin, D. (2006).  Of two minds: Skeptic-proponent collaboration within parapsychology. British Journal of Psychology, 97, 313-322.

Stanford, R.G. (1990). An experimentally testable model for spontaneous psi events: A review of related evidence and concepts from parapsychology and other sciences. In S. Krippner (Ed.) Advances in Parapsychological Research 6 (pp. 54-167).

Utts, J. (1991). Replication and meta-analysis in parapsychology. Statistical Science, 6, 363-403.

Von Lucadou, W., Romer, H., & Walach, H. (2007). Synchronistic phenomena as entanglement correlations in generalized quantum theory. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 14, 50-74.

Wiseman, R. & Watt, C. (2006). Belief in psychic ability and the misattribution hypothesis: A qualitative review. British Journal of Psychology, 97, 323-338.

Supplementary general sources

Alcock, J., Burns, J., & Freeman, A. (Eds) (2003). Psi Wars: Getting to Grips with the Paranormal. (Can be found online in Journal of Consciousness Studies, 10, numbers 6-7; several useful articles).

Cardeña, E., Lynn, S. J. & Krippner, S.  (Eds) (2014). Varieties of Anomalous Experiences 2nd Edition. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. (Whole volume is useful, as is the first edition. 2nd Edition is on reserve)

Cardena, E., Palmer, J., & Marcusson-Clavertz, D. (2015).  Parapsychology:  A Handbook for the 21st Century.  New Jersey:  McFarland.  (picks up from where Wolman’s Handbook left off).

Kurtz, P. (1985). A Skeptic’s Handbook of Parapsychology. New York: Prometheus.

May, E., & Marwaha, S. (2015). Extrasensory Perception: Support, Skepticism, and Science. Westport: Praeger. (2 volumes)

Wolman, B. B. (Ed.) (1977). Handbook of Parapsychology. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.


Additional Information: 


Formative assessment. To assess their knowledge and understanding of basic concepts in parapsychology (covered in the Irwin and Watt textbook) students will have the opportunity to take at-home multiple-choice quizzes during the course. These optional quizzes will give a mark for the purposes of feedback, but the mark will not contribute to the final (summative) course mark.

Summative assessment. 100% essay (maximum length 3000 words). A choice of essay topics will be provided. Submission deadline tbc, mark and feedback return tbc.

An electronic copy must be submitted through an own work declaration confirmation form and Turnitin link in Learn by the deadline. The electronic submission allows us to check for plagiarism and word count.The submission deadline must be observed. Failure to comply with the deadline without good reason will incur mark penalties as follows:

  • Up to 7 calender days, 5 marks per calender day will be deducted
  •  More than 7 calender days late a mark of zero will be given