Psychic MediumshipWhat is psychic mediumship?A type of relationship that a living person says they have with spirits. Mediums tend to claimthat they can communicate with spirits and pass on messages to loved ones ‘left behind’.Psychic mediumship has a very stereotypical image due to the media. Mediumship featuresheavily in the USA though it is growing increasingly popular in the UK. You may beinterested to know that of 1,006 adults polled in 2006 for Readers Digest Magazine, 43%reported reading other’s thoughts or having theirs read.Explanations of Psychic MediumshipSensitivity to cues: There are many clues that can help a talented medium produce accurateinformation (called cold reading). Even without sight of their ‘sitter’ they can pick upinformation from the sitter’s tone of voice and the sitter’s replies to previous statements.The Barnum effect: A cold reader starts with some general statements that could apply, e.g.‘I see a recent loss of life’ or ‘I see the letter J’ (Barnum Statement), which elicit responsesfrom the sitter. The responses can be used later in the conversation to convince listeners ofthe psychic’s abilities (Wiseman and O’Keeffe, 2001). The willingness of sitters to elaborateon limited information helps the medium appear to have special powers.Fraud: Spiritualism is a big business, which means that people resort to complex andconvincing strategies. For example, a medium might hire an accomplice to visit a regularsitter. During the visit, the accomplice asks to use the toilet and is able to steal a treasuredpossession. Later the medium asks if the person has lost something treasured and tells herwhere it can be found (Hines, 2003).
Psychic MediumshipResearch StudiesTV Test: Schwartz et al. (2001) tested five mediums, filmed by an American TV network. Twowomen were ‘sitters’ (one of them only saw two mediums). Both sitters were unknown tothe mediums, were over 40 and had experienced a number of deaths recently. Themediums could not see the sitters and the sitters were only allowed to answer yes or no.The two women judged the accuracy of mediums’ statements as 83% and 77%(retrospectively). A group of undergraduates were shown the statements along with aphotograph of the sitter and asked to guess the answer. 36% were able to guess correctly,suggesting that the medium’s performance was well above chance with the original sitters.Rock and Beischel (2008) tested the belief that mediums can report specific and accurateinformation about deceased persons without cues. They tested this using two conditions.Six mediums spoke on the phone to a sitter (an experimenter). They were given noinformation about the sitter or the sitter’s loved ones except the names, and the onlyconversation consisted of the sitter asking questions about their loved one (e..g. what weretheir hobbies). In one condition the loved one was deceased and in the other condition theloved one was living. The medium was blind to the conditions, yet found significantdifferences in the information retrieved were found between the two conditions.
Psychic MediumshipEvaluationExplanations - Willingness to be deceived: Roe (1996) reports that many sitters are awarethat mediums are just using general statements but nevertheless remain convinced. This issupported by the mock séance study by Wiseman et al (2003) (remember personalityfactors...). Even though participants knew the séance was fake, believers had a tendency tobe taken in by events.Research Studies – Contradictory evidence: O’Keeffe and Wiseman (2005) arranged for fivemediums to give readings for five sitters. Each sitter read all of the 25 readings producedand rated the personal relevance for each statement. The ratings were actually lowest forthe statements written for them. This well-controlled study, conducted by sceptics, showedno evidence of mediumship.Research Studies – Criticism: Schwartz et al (2001) used undergraduates to determine abaseline for the accuracy of the cold readings. Each undergraduate considered howaccurately each statement reflected their own feelings. Since the statements were writtento apply to older women who had experiences deaths in recent years, it is likely that theundergraduate would find the statements low in accuracy.Research Studies – The sheep-goat effect: In general the quality of research conducted onmediumship is poor. Most people are content to believe in it without scientific proof sothere is less motivation to conduct well – controlled research. What research is conductedtends to show the usual pattern of positive findings from believers (e.g. Rock and Bieschel)and negative findings from sceptics.