What is Parapsychology?

Parapsychology examines inexplicable (paranormal) phenomena such as thought transmission (telepathy), movement through thought power (telekinesis, psychokinesis). But also fringe sciences such as life after death (near-death experiences), UFOs, alternative medicine and much more.

Parapsychology [παρα, Greek, para, "alongside"; psyche, "soul" and logos, "word, teaching"). Parapsychological research is concerned with supernatural or paranormal communication and the influencing of physical states through exclusively psychological influence. The working methods of parapsychological research are based on empirical and statistical studies, sociological field research and work with so-called particularly gifted media.

The status of parapsychology as a recognized science is controversial to this day, although the Parapsychological Association (PA) (the international professional association of scientifically active parapsychologists) was accepted as a member organization of the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) in 1969. At a few universities, parapsychology is a subject of research as a branch of psychology.

The term parapsychology goes back to Max Dessoir, who coined the term 1889 to refer to a science that deals with "the phenomena emerging from the normal course of soul life". The term was first published in the theosophical journal Sphinx, published by Wilhelm Hübbe Schleiden But the topic had already been dealt with beforehand: In 1852, Edward White Benson formulated the goal of the supernatural-seeming occult phenomena as part of the "Ghost Club" (a forerunner of the later Society for Psychical Research SPR), which was founded in Cambridge to investigate on the basis of purely scientific methods. The first systematic studies were carried out by the German doctor Franz Anton Mesmer at the end of the 18th century on so-called animal magnetism, from which a direct line of development led to hypnotism (hypnosis, James Braid) and further to the study of changed "states of consciousness".

In 1882 the "Society for Psychical Research" (S.P.R.) was founded in England. Three years later, the "American Society for Psychical Research" (A.S.P.R.) followed in the USA (1885).

In 1919 the rather insignificant "Institut Métapsychique International" (Paris) was founded in France.

In 1968 Eileen J. Garrett founded the "Parapsychology Foundation" based in New York, editor of the journal "International Journal of Parapsychology" (until 1968).

Also worth mentioning is the "Society for Scientific Exploration" (SSE), founded in 1987, editor of the "Journal of Scientific Exploration".

Also worth mentioning is the skeptical association "Committee for the Investigation of the Paranormal" (CSICOP). Founded in the USA in 1987, it now has branches in numerous countries. The CSICOP publishes the magazine "The Septical Inquirer".

Parapsychological research examines psi phenomena such as telepathy (thought transfer), telekinesis / psychokinesis or near-death experiences and understand the conditions for their occurrence depending on the environment or those involved. A rough distinction is made between two categories of psi phenomena:

→ Extra-sensory perception: With an extra-sensory perception, an organism appears to receive information from its environment in a way that cannot be explained physically (telepathy / thought transference, precognition and clairvoyance.

→ Psychokinesis: In psychokinesis, an organism only seems to be able to actively influence its environment with its will (e.g. the poltergeist phenomenon).

In general, parapsychologists assume that in principle any organism could have psi skills.

Today parapsychological research mainly takes place in university research institutions. The best known of them are: "Division for Personality Studies" at the Medical Center of the University of Charlottesville (Virginia); "Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Laboratory" (PEAR) at Princeton University, New Jersey; "Arthur Koestler Chair for Parapsychology" at the Psychological Institute of the University of Edinburgh (Scotland).

One of the first universities to set up parapsychological laboratories was Duke University in Durham (North Carolina, USA) in 1927, which became known primarily through the trials of the Joseph Banks Rhine.

In Germany there is the "Institute for Border Areas of Psychology and Psycho-Hygiene" (Institut für Grenzgebiete der Psychologie und Psychohygiene e.V." (IGPP), which was founded in 1950 by Hans Bender and works closely with the University of Freiburg. The IGPP has been publishing the "Journal of Parapsychology and Frontier Areas of Psychology" (Zeitschrift für Parapsychologie und Grenzgebiete der Psychologie) since 1957.

Unfortunately, the term is used too often by laypeople and charlatans. In this portal we clarify what you should pay attention to.

In 1974, the German newspaper "Die Zeit" offered a prize of 100,000 marks (US$ 100,000) to the person who could bend a spoon under controlled conditions without resorting to sleight of hand like Uri Geller.

After leaving CSICOP (1994), James Randi founded the "James Randi Educational Foundation" (JREF) and offered a $ 1 million reward for those who can demonstrate paranormal abilities under scientific conditions.


In 1979, two young men reported to the McDonnell Laboratory at Washington University in St. Louis, who wanted to have their alleged paranormal abilities tested. The scientists were amazed when they bent metal in front of their eyes, "telekinetically" objects, swept them off the tables and influenced the hands of clocks. They spent 120 hours in the laboratory and the cost of the trials was $ 10,000. But the two young men — 18-year-old Steven Shaw and 17-year-old Michael Edwards — were sent in by stage magician and occult critic James Randi and had discovered and exploited every gap in the parapsychologists' surveillance measures. For a series of alleged thought photos in which a physicist thought he discovered parts of a woman's body, Shaw explained simply and amused with the words: "I just spat on the lens!".

Something similar happened in an investigation at the University of Bath in England in 1975, when supposedly sensitive children were only discovered when they were dizzy when they were left alone in a laboratory that had a one-sided mirrored pane and felt unobserved. A child bent the spoon by pinching it between the floor and foot and then bending it. Another child forcibly bent the spoon with both hands.

Tags: Parapsychology, Anomalistics, ASW, extraterrestrials, extrasensory experience, extrasensory perception, Bermuda Triangle, ESP, Extra Sensory Perception, remote viewing, thought transfer, ghosts, spiritual healers, spiritual healing, ghosts, clairvoyance, homeopathy, afterlife, metapysics, near-death experiences, occultism, paranormal , Parapsychology, phenomena, poltergeists, precognition, PSI, psychokinesis, pseudoscience, para-science, Reiki, spiritism, spooky, telekinesis, telepathy, supernatural, ufos, unidentified flying objects, conspiracy theories

What is paranormal?

The term paranormal or paranormality comes from the Greek para, which means something like "against", "against" or "next to", i.e. freely translated everything that is not "normal". Many refer to paranormal phenomena as not being explainable in a natural way or as supernatural.

Paranormal polls

In a 2007 UK poll, out of 1,005 respondents believed

  • of telepathy (thought transmission) 41 %
  • to ghosts 38 %
  • that it is possible to contact the deceased 32 %
  • to witches and wizards 13 %
  • that certain magic words and spells can actually have effects 12 %
  • that some crop circles are the work of extraterrestrial forces 9 %

Paranormal Beliefs

Paranormal beliefs do not necessarily come from events experienced as paranormal. For example, of the 38 % mentioned above, only about a third said they had seen a ghost. Due to the incompatibility with the empirically verifiable facts that are largely accepted in society, paranormal beliefs that occur in the general population can be seen as misperceptions or misjudgments of reality. That is, these beliefs are largely generated in response to emotional needs and are not subjected to rational evaluation through comparison with reality.

Interpretation of paranormal experiences

A distinction can be made between an unusual, so-called abnormal experience (e.g. "I had the impression of a figure nearby, although no one could have been there") and interpreting this experience as paranormal. For example, people who have had an abnormal experience can give a non-paranormal explanation ("I was being tricked by my senses") or a paranormal explanation ("I saw a ghost"). In a study of 307 participants, nearly all (306) reported having had at least one abnormal experience. However, only 47 participants (15 %) interpreted at least one experience as paranormal.

The persons concerned are characterized by certain characteristics. Both the susceptibility to abnormal experiences and the susceptibility to paranormal interpretations are respectively correlated with the symptom of unusual perceptual experiences of schizotypy, with the tendency for emotional reasoning and with the tendency not to check thoughts and feelings against reality. However, only the susceptibility to paranormal interpretations is associated with low levels of self-regulation.

Recent research suggests that the psychological processes underlying the formation of paranormal beliefs share many similarities with those underlying delusional beliefs. A survey examining the relationship between paranormal beliefs and thought distortions associated with the development of psychotic delusions, using a random sample of 250 people who measured paranormal belief intensity, schizotypal biases in reasoning, and need for withdrawal, found that the examined dimensions of paranormal belief were predicted by reasoning errors (see also reasoning disorder).