Psychic pair fail scientific test

60

A scientific experiment has found that two mediums were unable to demonstrate that they had special psychic powers.


The test by researchers at Goldsmiths, University of London, tried to establish whether mediums could use psychic abilities to identify something about five unseen volunteers.

The results, carried out under test conditions, did not show evidence of any unexplained powers of insight.

But medium Patricia Putt said this experiment “doesn’t prove a thing”.

This Halloween challenge was an attempt to investigate whether professional mediums could demonstrate their psychic powers in a controlled setting – by inviting them to deduce something about people they had never met and could not see or hear.

The experiment, designed by Chris French, head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths, asked two professional mediums to write something about five individuals who were concealed behind a screen.

These five volunteers were then asked to try to identify themselves from these psychic readings – with a success rate of only one in five.

This was a result that was “entirely consistent with the operation of chance alone”, said Professor French.

Written By: Sean Coughlan
continue to source article at bbc.co.uk

60 COMMENTS

  1. The confirmation bias these people possess makes it impossible to convince them their beliefs are fallacious.

    If the medium correctly “reads” someone’s mind, it’s evidence for psychic powers. If their answer is wrong, it’s just because of the “negative energy” exuding from those extremist researchers.

    Voila! Perpetual ignorance.

  2. She said there were fraudsters operating as psychic mediums – but that
    it was wrong for scientists to think that such mediums “were all the
    same”.

    The question that mrs Putt should answer is: “How do you know that a certain medium is a fraud and how do you know another is a genuine psychic”.  If she cannot answer this, she cannot make the above statement.
    Well,  maybe she will say “I just know”, the ususal meaningless answer.

  3.  

    valhalla
    That was unforeseen!

    You would have thought TRRROOooooo psychics would have seen the result coming!!

    Still, -  I’m sure they have a plausible explanation why they did not!  -  probably forgot to check the stars first, or the test equipment scrambled the vibes!

  4. Why did these women agree to the experiment ? Did they think they could somehow fool the experiment/experimenters ? Perhaps they are so used to fooling their gullible clients that they’ve started believing their own lies. Their dismissal of the negative findings remind me of a similar experiment into water dousing, the dousers said they couldn’t perform under experiment-like conditions!

    Damn scientists !

  5. It somehow seems as if the lack of awareness of our
    (in)competence in areas such as singing or painting carry over into not
    realizing our incompetence at being self-aware and unable to break down an action into smaller actions, causes, or skills. Some people are better judges of other people’s character and can figure out a lot of info from a brief encounter with someone. At times, some people somehow fail to realize the minute observations going on and attribute any correct interpretations as magic or a psychic connection.

     I noticed that nearly all of this psychic stuff, metaphysical woo, etc.  is dependent upon something as a starter that allows them to build an analogy, metaphor, or stream of consciousness with their imagination, knowledge base, life experience, skills, etc.  (I noticed how this process is sometimes strangely similar to designing or creating art. ) I once read an artists statement that equated creativity with connections. Notice how one woman stated that she needed to hear a voice or have a connection with someone. Yes, because without it, she would have no “idea starter” to build upon and make up a story.

  6. Some years ago when I worked in London, one morning as I was walking from the tube station to the office, I noticed Mystic Meg was doing a signing that lunch time at a bookshop I frequently visited.

    I happened to return during my lunch (having forgotten about it during the morning) to find her sitting on her own, unhappily surveying a stack of her unsold books, and no one queuing to buy them.

    Who could have predicted that!  (Actually I did).  I still laugh about it whenever I think of it

  7. So…does this mean the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths is going to get a call from the local public library stating there is something weird going on in the basement?  “SSHHH!! Listen! Do you smell something?”

    Who ya’ gonna call? 

  8. Great post, QK.  It touches on a lot of things I’m trying to make sense of on both of these subjects. 

    I have nothing valuable to add, but I understand what you’re getting at. 

    This is why I can understand why some of these people sincerely believe that they can’t effectively demonstrate their “gift” in laboratory conditions. 

    It’s the same as a  comedian being put in a laboratory and being asked by a group of scientists to “say something funny”.

    Of course, a comedian doesn’t claim to talk to the dead.  

  9. Psychics are fraudulent buffoons!
    The world is full of these phony mutts; be they naturopaths,homeopaths,chiropractors radiothesiasts,or faith healers,etc.
    There are people who act in such a way that unless they are mad they’re certainly dishonest.

  10. Oh, all ye of little faith. If any of you were to take the time to go on Patricia Putt’s own website http://www.ankhara.com/ and follow the link you would find a long list of testimonials which prove beyond any doubt that the spirit world is very real indeed.

    Granted, Ms Putz, sorry, Putt’s idea of a testimonial may differ slightly from most people’s, in that they seem to be mostly anecdotal, don’t mention any of the names of the people who have been helped by her, and were all written by the lady herself. But come on, people, she’s been on the Kilroy programme. And that man’s name is a byword for integrity. 

  11. I went to see a psychic last year… well, my sister did and I went along for a laugh…

    There were about 30 people in the room and in the space of about 90 minutes, he fired off hundreds of questions, hardly any of them resulting in ‘hits’…

    In fact, I counted 44 hits out of around 850 questions (yes, he really did manage that many in an hour and a half) – and all of those were so vague and random that I could probably have done better myself… At least 20 of the 44 were with one woman, who was quite obviously a plant, it was embarrassing…

    Ignoring the plant, not one of the remaining ‘hits’ was followed by another one on the same subject with the same person… he truly was grasping at nothing…

    At one point, he got angry with the audience, saying things like “there is too much negative energy in here, the dead can’t get through to me” and “I don’t care if you don’t take this seriously, I’ve taken your money now”…

    Lovely bloke…

    To be honest, his act was dying so badly, I thought he was about to start channelling himself…

    EDIT: I’ve just remembered one of his classic vague questions… “I see a river in Germany… it has a bridge… does this mean anything to anyone??”… needless to say, the room stayed silent, save for a few muffled laughs…

  12. In a recent interview I watched on this site, RD says a similar thing about dowsers. Although there is no evidence of psychic activity, it is often true that dowsers find water and there is some evidence that it is better than average. His point was that they are not doing anything psychic, but instead subconsciously picking up on other signs – geographic, mainly – and correctly predicting where water may be found. This is similar to your point about always needing something to go on.

    Some mediums or spiritual healers probably do the same thing, and again, in a lot of cases, it may be subconscious.

  13. I can pick up on people’s emotions and thoughts quite easily and have been ‘accused’ of being psychic in the past myself…

    Like you say, just by observing little tell-tale signs and knowing some background about the person, it is all too easy to convince them that you have some kind of supernatural powers…

    Of course, empathy is not a paranormal superpower, it is a natural gift that some people possess – a bit like being naturally good at comedy or sport.

  14. I wonder if it’d be possible to do another research where the mediums can interact with their clients, and then some other people do the same (psychologists, random strangers, people with good empathy, etc) and in the end we let the subjects pick out which sheet of notes best describes them.

    At that point they can’t blame anything on test conditions anymore, since they’re engaging with them naturally. And if they really know something other people don’t, they’ll be picked from the list 100% of the time.

  15. Another area where woo woo has been challenged and found wanting is the religious nonsense such as tongue speaking and interpreting, prophecy and the “power of prayer” Probably need to add faith healing to that lot as well. But, and this is a big but, the god-botherers have a trump card for when you try to assess their BS scientifically  - “You cannot put god to the test” You just cant and dont. If you do it wont work. You’ve just got to trust us…..

    I wonder if the other woo woo merchants have a similar line. I mean the New Age types rather than the overtly religious – do they ever come out with some sort of “uncertainty principle ” trump card – Once you start to measure and assess the value of a “gift” then you remove its “power” , You can observe it happening, but you cant pin it down. Heisenberg style!

    Wouldnt surprise me…..

    SG

  16.  

    Dr Bob
    I can pick up on people’s emotions and thoughts quite easily and have been ‘accused’ of being psychic in the past myself…

    Yes! -  amazing “powers” some of us have, to know what fundies or religious apologists are going to claim or say next in a discussion!

  17. masubi
     .. … ..  there is something weird going on in the basement?  “SSHHH!! Listen! Do you smell something?”

    Who ya’ gonna call? 

     Ghost.. … .  /  Err:  I mean Myth-busters!

  18.  @rdfrs-d058046c0fc3f753efc3f98d71ed8475:disqus  “… it is often true that dowsers find water and there is some evidence that it is better than average.”

    But finding water ‘better than average’ supposes that you know the probability of finding water in any given spot. Without knowing the background probability of an event it is hard to know whether a result is extraordinary or not. Since we live on a planet that has a lot of water, finding water underground if you dig at random has a higher probability than most people think.
    The apparent ability to locate particular water pipes is interesting but then the dowser is most likely exploiting familiarity with the way builders do the plumbing (possibly unconsciously) and that might boost their success rate. In controlled conditions, just like the psychics, the dowser’s ‘powers’ disappear which is a sure sign of woo. 
    If you’re interested, I strongly recommend the book ‘Water Witching’ U.S.A. by Evon z. Vogt and Ray Hayman. I learnt more about how humans fool themselves from that book than almost any other. My favourite bit is where a dowser claims to people he can detect precious metals in the ground and even distinguish between different metals. Then his young son pipes up, “But Dad. If you can do that, why aren’t we rich?”
    Out of the mouths of babes ….

  19.  @Lorcán I think we have to give the women the benefit of the doubt and believe they may have sincerely thought they were helping to understand a phenomenon they think is real. I doubt they would have thought that a university experiment would bring them lots of good publicity. It is always possible that they agreed to take part because if the results were successful they could claim ‘scientifically proved’ and make more money, but I doubt that. The classic story of the horse ‘Clever Hans’ (lookup in wikipedia) demonstrates how people can innocently deceive themselves and also how a well constructed series of experiments can reveal the truth. Every skeptic should know the story of Clever Hans and the name of Oscar Pfungst who found out the truth.

  20. The really interesting part of this test is the incredulous reaction and cognitive dissonance by Patricia Put and others.
    That’s the most interesting part of this test from a psychological point of view.

  21. Hi Kev,

    I’m sure there are all sorts of ifs and buts on claims like these, and I don’t have any evidence myself. I was reporting on what RD had said without the quote marks as I didn’t have time to check back on RD’s exact words. Presumably RD was thinking of something – perhaps just anecdotal – to suggest that, in some tests, dowsers do better in finding water than Joe Public. He explained this by saying that dowsers observed the natural world around them and had, in effect, learnt a skill without knowing it. Instead they claim they have some woo in them.

    This has become an interesting thread because for the first time I can remember, we have edged towards giving mediums etc a real “skill”. So a way into this for us may be to congratulate sincere mediums and faith healers etc and credit them with some real life skills, but simply question their belief that it relies on woo. They may not be as happy as all that to gain a skill at the expense of losing their status as someone “with a gift”, but that’s too bad.

  22.  Plu, This would only show judgement of character and not psychic ability. I tend to be extremely good at these sorts of things. I can walk into a place and within minutes figure out the dynamics of the room, people in it… Years ago when I was out of work, I made an excellent temporary employee. I could walk into a company and figure out what was going in within the first hour. I have been accused of being psychic because I could quickly figure out someone’s dynamics and then figure out how the person would act or do something in the future based on his/her personality. It is absolutely nothing magical. I tend to be a big picture person, but also can see minor usually overlooked details. People usually act consistent with their personality, so if they are on a clearly paved path, it only takes a little projecting into the future to figure out what will happen.

    Regarding the dowsers…It is my understanding that ground water is relatively common so finding it with a dowsing rod is no better than chance.

  23. It sounds like Patricia Putt has all the excuses ready to prove her dismal non-powers.

    Would someone like to propose a test which allows her to work face to face with people and hear their voice but which still doesn’t let her practice coldreading or whatever.

  24. Some scientists have been fooled before – see Project Alpha.  I suppose if a test subject were able to cheat without being caught they could enjoy some fame and if they couldn’t cheat they could always make lame excuses after the fact like Ms Putt did. Maybe the scientists should get the subjects to sign some piece of paper affirming that the test conditions were fair and did not interfere with their powers to stop the excuses.

  25. @rdfrs-d058046c0fc3f753efc3f98d71ed8475:disqus There may be an interesting link here with Sam Harris’ discussion about Free Will. Clearly a lot of what goes on in our heads is not conscious thought but is going on in the background and the unconscious part is probably making many or all of the decisions, some of which ‘surface’ in our consciousness and we get the false impression that we ‘decided’ to do something. I suspect that is why some people think they have real paranormal skills. When a ‘dowser’ feels for water or a psychic ‘imagines’ what someone is thinking, it is probably just their unconscious brains trying to come to the best conclusion based on the available evidence/memories etc.. Whenever there are some useful clues around that might raise the probability of a ‘hit’ above chance then the brain is remarkably good at incorporating that information its unconscious deliberations and popping out a ‘result’ that is better than chance. To the dowser or psychic is might feel like something was informing them from outside whereas in fact it just their remarkable brain doing the best in can in the circumstances. Perhaps some people are better at incorporating seemingly irrelevant data into their unconscious ‘number crunching’ than others. No woo about it .. just different human abilities.
    @rdfrs-a89b71bb5227c75d463dd82a03115738:disqus I agree this experiment is not telling us anything new, but IMHO an interesting area of research is seeing whether we can improve the success rate of psychics by giving them very subtle, unconscious clues. We know that when you remove all chance of ‘contamination’ in a lab experiment the phenomenon disappears, (so in a sense we know that clues help) but it would be interesting to see what kinds of things improve the hit rate. This would be of value to understand how our brain works, and is not in any way looking for a real psychic effect. I’m not aware of anyone that has tried to explore just what sorts of things the unconscious brain is able to incorporate into its decision-making process so if anyone knows of research like this I’d be very interested to hear about it. (I’m not in the brain business, just interested.) Maybe I need to look more at some of what Richard Wiseman has been doing.

  26. @rdfrs-02ebef87427e94df11231b0089565f44:disqus  I understand that when Randi tests people for his $1M prize he always asks them to sign a declaration about what they claim they can do and can’t do. And he goes to great pains to be sure they are happy with the test conditions. However when they fail (as they always do) they still claim it was the fault of the test or the presence of negative thoughts or the fault of the green goblins at the bottom of the garden.

  27. Of course they always fail!!!   What I find interesting about this is that they found “psychics”  willing to submit to scientific scrutiny.  Another facet that I find interesting is that the “followers” of these people will not be swayed away from patronizing them despite their being shown to be fraudulent.

  28. But that’s what we’re testing isn’t it? If the subject is psychic, they should be able to draw far more data from their interactions than other, non-psychic subjects. But if they fail to produce more interesting results than a regular joe or a psychologist, they apparently possess no more ability to read minds than any other person.

  29. @rdfrs-1bf4b10b058cd14143bf1c9caeb5fe83:disqus 

    What I find interesting about this is that they found “psychics”  willing to submit to scientific scrutiny.

    That’s why I think these 2 sincerely believe they have a real skill and are not out to deliberately deceive people. Someone who was deliberately and consciously fraudulent is unlikely to subject themselves to a test that would expose their fraud. However it might depend on the circumstances because people desperate for publicity might think it worthwhile to take part even if they knew they would probably fail.
    One slightly odd thing about this article is the fact that it made the BBC news. If there was some prior agreement between the experimenters and the psychics that the results would be given to the BBC for a new item, that might have contributed to the psychic’s decision to take part … but I doubt that happened. It is odd though that this relatively minor experiment came to the attention of the BBC when it is not the summer news drought.

  30. I have a vivid blonde streak on the left side of my hair and people,(usually Catholics,as i’m an ex-Catholic), have always asked me: “am i psychic because you have a strikingly blonde streak in your hair?Can you see other things in to the next world?”

    Weirdness.
     

  31. So, we have reconfirmed what we already know. And we did this for what reason? It is a well established fact that there is no psychic bullshit of any kind. Unless a disclaimer of “for entertainment purposes only” is shown and expressed to the customer verbally, anyone promoting psychic services as real should be arrested and charged with fraud, immediately. The first 800 scientific studies should be enough to support that point. This was wasted money but good for the school kids.

  32. @GPWC  –
    How do you do that?

    As I have spotted this – type  @    – and the name – a menu of names should appear, but sometimes the one you want is missing and the wrong one drops in automatically.

    Also to Quote type <blockxquote> at the beginning and </blockxquote> at the end – missing out the x I have inserted to keep this visible – rather than it quoting “at the beginning and ” , with the tag hidden.

  33. In one of Randi’s books, he describes testing water diviners, and has them sign a form agreeing to the conditions of the test (what constitutes a success or failure, and agreeing that it is a fair test) beforehand. 

    Another clause on the form is that if they fail, that they concede that they don’t have psychic powers, which they always refuse to sign even though they agree the test is fair.

  34. I might as well join in with all the ‘they did not see that coming’  jokes, but seriously all this does is confirm that all psychics have to offer is vague ‘readings’ that could be about almost anybody and this then is taken as an ability to read minds or contact the dead.

  35. “But medium Patricia Putt said this experiment “doesn’t prove a thing”. “

    Errr, half-correct but sorry Patricia, you are shifting the burden of proof, the scientists weren’t conducting the experiment to disprove you, they set up the experiment to give YOU the opportunity to prove your abilities. And you failed.

Leave a Reply