Extra-Sensory Perception


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Psychic Detectives

7. Study Topics

Psychic Detectives

Controlled studies show, unanimously, that psychics are no more accurate than controls when it comes to providing information about crimes. Despite this, some police departments, most notably in the US, still continue to use psychics. In a recent assessment of the situation, Riley and Thompson note that “there is no nationally agreed policy laid down by ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) or the Home Office on the use of mediums in major crime investigations,” (Riley & Thompson, 1987). They discuss the numerous unsolicited responses to high profile cases and the implications (both monetary and in manpower) in following up every source.

A survey in America revealed that 35 per cent of urban police departments admit to having used a psychic at least once in their investigations (Sweat & Durm, 1993). In addition, Lyons and Truzzi (1991), from the Center for Scientific Anomalies Research (CSAR), report the widespread use of psychic detectives in Holland, Germany and France. Most parapsychologists, however, seem to view an emphasis on alleged applications of psi to be premature and unreliable (Broughton, 1991). This raises the question of why psychic detectives are still being used in investigations, “interfering with effective police work and profiting from the glory they borrow from such official association?” (CSICOP, 1982).

A psychic reading is basically a verbal interaction between a psychic, who claims paranormal abilities, and a client, who consults the psychic, usually for advice on a specific problem. Typically, after some initial conversation, the psychic signals, either behaviourally or verbally, that he or she has entered a state in which paranormal impressions can be obtained. It is then assumed by client and psychic that what follows is paranormally obtained information. An interaction develops in which frequently the paranormal character, that is, the truth of the statements, is established. Most statements of the psychic concern verifiable matters, that is, knowledge the client already possesses. In between, the psychic gives impressions or advice on the unverifiable matters the client came for, sometimes mixed with opinions on subjects of a more general nature, such as ethical and religious matters, how to live, theories on the source of their paranormal ability, and so forth. Numerous researchers have commented on and highlighted the techniques used by psychics (specifically psychic detectives), additionally verifying that psychics appear to do no better than non-psychics in dealing with target persons (O’Keeffe & Alison, 1999; Wiseman, West & Stemman, 1996).

Most statements of psychic detectives are of a rhetorical or open-ended nature. They are not just statements, but rather they are formulated in such a way that they stimulate feedback. In addition, a number of psychological processes, well known from the professional psychological literature, contribute to the apparent success of a sitting and, in this particular case, the client’s (i.e. the police) reliance on their use in an investigation and possibly in perpetuating their own belief system. These processes are:

    1. In general, the psychic controls the encounter to a much greater extent than the client is aware of.
    2. Many topics for readings concern basic needs or fears that almost all people experience. General statements in these areas that create belief or assurance will often be considered as “correct” and as very applicable to the client’s situation.
    3. The appearance of the client provides the psychic with information about the person. The majority of clients go to a psychic for a specific reason. In the case of psychic detection there are definite reasons, and these, more often than not, are concerned with the unsolved nature of high-profile crimes (murder and rape). Therefore, it is frequently the case that psychic detection is unsolicited by police forces, but actively solicited by friends and family of the victim.
    4. Clients might not be aware of their non-verbal reactions to statements on topics that are highly emotional for them (or indeed that are self-confirming, i.e. that support a police officer’s theory on the prime suspect or location of a missing person).
    5. Clients have a common tendency to avoid disagreements and dissonance by trying to confirm statements.
    6. People tend to attach more value and to remember better correct statements rather than incorrect ones, especially in cases where a search process finally yields a satisfactory interpretation. The search process itself and the initial false interpretations are quickly forgotten.
    7. People do poorly at estimating probabilities, and they tend to underestimate the probability of correct statements. Often psychics, and especially psychics involved in missing person cases, use statements concerned with water and electricity. There is a very high probability that a body will be found near water because there is literally water everywhere: lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, seas and taps, sinks, toilets and baths! The same can be said of electricity.
    8. Most statements have a variety of interpretations. This not only strongly increases the probability of being correct, but it also creates a situation in which a client may affirm a statement based on an interpretation that is different from that which the psychic intended; that is, the client “reads in” the correct answer. Also the statements are often delivered with such vagueness and ambiguity as to encourage interpretation.
    9. Clients may strongly underestimate the experience and knowledge of psychics. Because clients accept the “paranormal” state of the psychic, they seem to assume that in this state normal psychological processes, such as the effect of experience and rational inference, are excluded. Psychics frequently involved in criminal investigations, including those who have an avid interest in the media associated with cases, will have an unexpected pool of knowledge and experience to draw their conclusions from.

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