Parapsychology

Although Prof Richard Wiseman does not think that the results of laboratory-based studies into psychic ability provide convincing evidence of such abilities, he does believe that they do justify further work in this area. For this reason he has carried out various projects assessing laboratory-based evidence for extrasensory perception (ESP).

In 1997, Prof Wiseman and Dr Julie Milton (then University of Edinburgh) co-authored Guidelines for Extrasensory Perception Research – a manual that outlines how to avoid the methodological and statistical pitfalls that can occur during ESP experiments. In 2005, Prof Wiseman and Dr Caroline Watt (University of Edinburgh) co-edited Parapsychology - a large collection of key papers from the field produced as part of The International Library of Psychology.

Remote Viewing
In the late 1990’s, the CIA issued an overview of twenty years of US government sponsored research into ‘remote viewing’. Dr Milton and Prof Wiseman carried out a detailed critique of the studies described in this report, arguing that they contained serious methodological problems.

The Ganzfeld debate
In 1994, psychologist Daryl Bem and parapsychologist Charles Honorton carried out a meta-analytic survey of a set of ESP ‘Ganzfeld’ experiments (a type of ESP study employing a mild form of sensory isolation), arguing that the database constituted evidence for psychic functioning. In 1999, Dr Julie Milton (then Edinburgh University) and Prof Wiseman published a follow-up paper, presenting a meta-analysis of Ganzfeld studies conducted between 1987 & 1997, and arguing that this subsequent research had failed to replicate the initial effect. This paper produced a large amount of controversy within parapsychology, culminating in a special issue of the Journal of Parapsychology.

The remote detection of staring
Some parapsychologists have conducted psychophysiological studies in which participants seem able to psychically detect an unseen gaze. In 1995 and 1998 Prof Wiseman carried out joint studies in collaboration with Dr Marilyn Schlitz (Institute of Noetic Sciences), a parapsychologist who had carried out many of the most successful staring studies. The studies revealed evidence of an ‘experimenter effect’, with the sessions carried out by Prof Wiseman obtaining quite different results from those conducted by Dr Schlitz. A third joint study, reported in 2005, has failed to replicate this experimenter effect.

Mind Machines

Mind Machines are interactive multimedia kiosks that present the public with an opportunity to participate in various psychological experiments.

The first Mind Machine was designed by Prof Wiseman and Dr Emma Greening (then University of Hertfordshire), and involved asking the public to try to psychically predict the outcome of a random coin toss. This kiosk collected over a quarter of a million datapoints during a year-long tour of Britain's largest shopping centres and science festivals. The findings did not reveal any evidence to support the existence of extrasensory perception.

A second Mind Machine, created by Prof Wiseman in collaboration with Dr Adrian Owen and Dr Daniel Bor (MRC CBU, Cambridge), tested the public’s short-term spatial memory and was commissioned by the British Association for the Advancement of Science as part of their ‘Creating Sparks’ Festival of Science. The kiosk collected several thousand datapoints whilst in the Wellcome Wing of the London Science Museum, and the results of the study were published in the academic journal, Neuron.


External resources

Science News article on Prof Wiseman's ESP meta-analysis

BBC Online article on the laugh of the first Mind Machine

The Memory Machine

Selected references

Milton, J. & Wiseman, R. (1999). Does psi exist? Lack of replication of an anomalous process of information transfer. Psychological Bulletin, 125(4), 387-391.

Milton, J. & Wiseman, R. (1999). A meta-analysis of mass media ESP testing. British Journal of Psychology, 90, 235-240.

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

Schlitz, M., Wiseman, R., Radin, D., & Watt, C. (2005). Of two minds: Skeptic-proponent collaboration within parapsychology. Proceedings of the 48th Annual Convention of the Parapsychological Association. USA. 171-177.

Wiseman, R., Smith, M. D., & Kornbrot, D. (1996). Assessing possible sender-to-experimenter acoustic leakage in the PRL autoganzfeld. Journal of Parapsychology. 60, 97-128.

Wiseman, R. & Schlitz, M. (1998). Experimenter effects and the remote detection of staring. Journal of Parapsychology, 61(3), 197-208.

Wiseman, R. & Milton, J. (1999). Experiment one of the SAIC remote viewing program: A critical re-evaluation. Journal of Parapsychology, 62(4), 297-308.

Wiseman, R. & Milton, J. Experiment one of the SAIC remote viewing program: A critical re-evaluation. A reply to May. (1999). Journal of Parapsychology, 63(1), 3-14.

Wiseman, R. & Watt, C. (2002). Experimenter differences in cognitive correlates of paranormal belief and psi. Journal of Parapsychology, 66(4), 371-385.

Wiseman, R. & Watt, C. (2005). Parapsychology. London, UK: Ashgate International Library of Psychology: Series Editor, Prof. David Canter.

Bor, D., Duncan, J., Wiseman, R., & Owen, A.M. (2003). Encoding strategies dissociate prefrontal activity from working memory demand. Neuron, 37, 361-367.

Milton, J. & Wiseman, R. (1999). A meta-analysis of mass media ESP testing. British Journal of Psychology, 90, 235-240.

Wiseman, R. & Greening, E. (2002). The mind machine: A mass participation experiment into the possible existence of extrasensory perception. The British Journal of Psychology, 93, 487-499.