Having established that the mind can play a role in how we interpret paranormal events or experiences, we are going to consider this theory further. I’m not saying that the tricks our mind can play on us are explanations for all paranormal experiences, because it’s not. We are going to be speaking to a parapsychologist and focus on the work done by the Koestler Parapsychology Unit.
I linked a survey at the end of the article Paranormal: Power of the Mind, to get people opinion on what they thought of the idea that the mind could play tricks on us, when it comes to paranormal experiences.
One survey respondent, said: “I think the mind, especially an over active or emotional mind does have the ability to make you think you may have experienced something. However, in believing in the paranormal it is important to remember there does not need to be an answer for everything and sometimes there are no answers.”
Dr. Caroline Watt founding member of KPU, The University of Edinburgh[/caption]
Dr. Caroline Watt, founding member of Koestler Parapsychology Unit (KPU), based in the Psychology Department at The University of Edinburgh, said: “I got interested in parapsychology because, as a psychology graduate, I was aware that paranormal beliefs and experiences are quite common, and I wanted to find out what lay behind these experiences.“I decided to study parapsychology because I thought it would be interesting - and I was right!”
Reports of paranormal experiences have long been reported, including, near-death experiences, dream precognition and hauntings. Research conducted by KPU examines the causes and impacts of these experiences. KPU focused on four aspects these causes and impacts: Precognitive dreaming, the function of paranormal beliefs and the discursive approach.
Precognitive dream experiences are dreams that appear to predict the future. Dr Watt investigated the psychological factors that may explain precognitive dream experiences. One study found that some precognitive dreams are due to people finding connections between their dreams and subsequent events.
Dr. Watt, said: “My research has found that people who believe in the paranormal are more likely to see correspondences or connections between dream reports and news reports that have been randomly paired. This suggests a normal mechanism that might lead to an increased frequency of seemingly precognitive dream experiences.”
The second aspect of KPU research was, the function of paranormal beliefs, the research suggests, that for some people, paranormal belief may provide a sense of control in chaotic or stressful situation. The KPU conducted two studies, the first showed a link between a lack of a sense of control during childhood and the development of paranormal beliefs in adulthood, which was conducted by Dr Watt and Dr Richard Wiseman in 2007. The second showed that more than half of those reporting paranormal experiences had experienced a negative life event, before the experience happened.
A photo used by the KPU to demonstrate the function of paranormal beliefs.
Dr. Watt, said: “A person who has had a traumatic or chaotic childhood might develop paranormal beliefs in order to give them a sense of control over their environment. For instance, thinking that you can read other people's minds may give you comfort and a feeling of control.”
The findings from the two studies, into the function of paranormal beliefs, are in-line with a wider body of research, conducted by Watt and Wiseman in 2004, which examined how paranormal beliefs can provide an illusory sense of control.
Dr. Watt, said: “Let's take superstitious beliefs as an example. People who live in dangerous environments, such as near an active volcano, have more superstitious beliefs than those who live in less dangerous environments. Those who live near the volcano may have various rituals that they practice in order to try to placate the 'god of the volcano'. This is a paranormal belief. It makes the people feel more in control of the situation, however their behavior does not actually affect the volcano.”
Understanding paranormal belief is difficult, but an alternative approach is to examine them as discursive phenomena.
Dr. Watt, said: “This looks at the language used by people when they talk about their paranormal beliefs and experiences. For example, when a person says, "I'm a skeptic, but you'll never believe what happened to me", the discursive approach looks at the work that is done by the phrase 'I'm a skeptic". That phrase is said in order to make the person appear to be a critical thinker. It is used to strengthen the paranormal claim that follows.”
One reader of the article Paranormal: Power of the Mind, said: “After reading this I feel that what O’Keeffe was saying is spot on. I believe that the combination of night / dark, being tired, your mind plays tricks on you with the combination of being cold helpless strange noises accentuates the ghostly experience.”
In response to the previous comment, one reader, said: “That absolutely explains some things, but it positively does not explain them all. I can attest to the reality, and 100% positive knowledge for myself that there is something just on the other side of what we can see. It has the ability to see us, and interact with us, but for the most part, remains unseen. When a person has their own unquestionable experience, their world view changes forever.”
In regard to ghosts or spirits, Dr. Caroline Watt, said: “I think it is most likely the case that normal factors, such as pareidolia, can explain most ghostly experiences.”
An example of Pareidolia or Matrixing.
Pareidolia, otherwise known as matrixing, is the psychological phenomenon in which the mind responds to a stimulus, usually an image or a sound, by perceiving a familiar pattern where none exists.
Another respondent, of the survey, said: “My mind knows what it is doing and tells the body what to do.”
Between Paranormal: Power of the Mind and this article we have covered many psychological explanations for paranormal experiences, although these are just a few of many psychological explanations. As some of the survey respondents pointed out, psychological explanations only explain some, not all, of the many paranormal experiences that have been reported. I have never personally experienced anything paranormal, however, I have spoken to many people and you can see in every fiber of their being that they have experienced something and that experiences have impacted them. The research Dr. Caroline Watt has conducted made it clear that our mind can subconsciously, be making connections or seeking control, and its these types of mind tricks that are out with our control as we might not even realize what we’re doing. The article Paranormal: Power of the Mind concentrated more on the psychological explanations we can take into consideration. For example, when we’re investigating the paranormal, watching paranormal TV programmes or reading about the paranormal, we can consider suggestibility and priming. Especially, with hindsight we can consider these explanations along with other physical explanations, but we would find it hard to consider the evidence Dr. Watt found from her research, as these psychological explanations are happening subconsciously. Although, I am a believer in the paranormal I think it is important to be aware of all the explanations out there to enable you to have a full picture.