Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Politics of Dreaming Recent research has found an interesting relationship between dreaming and a person’s political orientation. Those who identify as politically liberal tend to recall their dreams more frequently than those who identify as conservative. Additionally, conservatives tend to report more mundane dream content, whereas liberals have more bizarre dreams. Better dream recall is associated with higher openness to experience, and liberals tend to be higher in openness to experience than conservatives. The difference in dream recall may be due to differences in openness between liberals and conservatives. These findings seem to suggest that liberals may differ from conservatives not only in their social values, but may be more imaginative than conservatives.
In a large scale demographic survey of Americans, those who identified as left-liberals recalled more dreams (including nightmares) than right-conservatives (Bulkeley, 2012). (Those who identified as libertarian or as moderates were excluded from the analysis.) Liberals were also more likely to talk about their dreams and reported higher rates of lucid dreaming. There was very substantial overlap between liberals and conservatives in their dream recall patterns though, indicating that this was not a large difference.  
Political liberals are more likely to report bizarre dream content than conservatives

These findings are in line with an earlier study by the same author (Bulkeley, 2006)  that also found that conservatives slept more soundly whilst liberals had more troubled sleep. Participants in this study were also asked to provide details of their most recent dream. An interesting finding was that conservatives tended to have more mundane dreams, containing only events that could occur in real life, whereas liberals were more likely to report bizarre dream content, such as flying or talking with someone who has died in real life. Liberals generally reported a greater variety of dream themes. Although there is considerable overlap, liberals seem to have a richer scope of dream experiences that is more likely to include fantastic elements and be less grounded in mundane reality.

The author also noted differences in the content of women’s sexual dreams depending on political orientation. Liberal women’s sexual dream reports were more elaborate and detailed than those of their conservative counterparts. Liberal women reported higher rates of sexual dreams (92% vs. 71%), even though the conservatives’ rates were fairly high (suggesting they were not on the whole too embarrassed to admit sexual dreams). Liberal females also were more likely to report sexual interactions with other women (24% vs. 4%). Liberal women may be more open to sexuality in their dreams generally and to homosexuality in particular than conservative women.

Bulkeley interpreted these findings in line with the “continuity hypothesis” of dreaming. This hypothesis proposes that people tend to dream about whatever is most important and emotionally salient in their lives. This is in contrast to Freudian and Jungian theories of dreaming which emphasised the disguised, symbolic nature of dream content.

A study on dream recall and big five personality traits found that higher openness to experience was associated with more dream recall (Watson, 2003). Openness to experience is a personality trait associated with the breadth and richness of a person’s inner life as well as their preference for variety and novelty versus sameness. This study had the advantage of using a daily diary method of assessing dream recall rather than asking a general question about dream recall as in the studies by Bulkeley. Political liberalism is moderately associated with openness to experience, so the greater dream recall of liberals may be due to their greater openness to experience. This would also fit in with the continuity hypothesis. People high on openness to experience tend to have a greater variety of inner experiences in waking life than more closed individuals, and their dreams therefore follow a similar pattern.

Openness is usually considered in terms of a number of component facets, including openness to ideas, values, feelings, aesthetics, actions, and fantasy. The facet most relevant to political orientation, and on which liberals and conservatives differ most strongly, is openness to values, which explicitly relates to a person’s attitudes to authority and tradition. Conservatism is associated with a preference for the familiar and the traditional, and conservatives tend to prefer conformity to the status quo. Liberalism is associated with greater comfort with change and innovation, and liberals are more likely to question authority and the value of tradition.

The findings about the differences in dream content suggest that not only are liberals more open to values but they are more open to fantasy as well. Although measures of the fantasy facet have no apparent ideological content, studies have found that other openness facets including fantasy, are positively associated with liberalism (McCrae & Sutin, 2009). This suggests that liberals not only differ from conservatives in their social attitudes but they tend to have richer inner experiences generally. This might make it easier for them to envision a new and better kind of society they would like to strive for. 

Whether or not being high in fantasy-related tendencies is considered a good or a bad thing depends on subjective preferences. People high in openness to experience tend to regard it as socially desirable, whereas more closed individuals demean it (McCrae & Sutin, 2009). Conservatives may see themselves as realistic, down-to-earth and grounded in reality, whereas liberals might view them as dull, unimaginative, and inflexible. Liberals might see themselves as visionary and forward thinking, whereas conservatives might see them as having their “heads in their clouds” and being out of touch with reality. In practice openness to fantasy may be a two-edged sword. Without imagination and fantasy there can be no creativity and hence no progress. On the other hand, fantasy that is ungrounded in practical considerations can shade into madness.

Finally, it may be worth reiterating that not only is there substantial overlap between liberals and conservatives in dream recall, but in personality as well. When considering whether to vote for a political candidate, bear in mind that some conservative policies could well be the product of a bizarre fantasy and that some liberals ones could be grounded in reality, and vice versa.

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© Scott McGreal. Please do not reproduce without permission. Brief excerpts may be quoted as long as a link to the original article is provided.  

             This article has previously appeared on Psychology Today on my blog Unique - Like everybody else.

Bulkeley, K. (2006). Sleep and dream patterns of political liberals and conservatives Dreaming, 16 (3), 223-235 DOI: 10.1037/1053-0797.16.3.223
Bulkeley, K. (2012). Dream Recall and Political Ideology: Results of a Demographic Survey. Dreaming, 22 (1), 1-9 DOI: 10.1037/a0026170
McCrae, Robert & Sutin, Angelina R. (2009). "Chapter 17. Openness to Experience". In Mark R. Leary, & Rick H. Hoyle. Handbook of Individual Differences in Social Behavior. New York/London: The Guildford Press. pp. 257–273. ISBN 978-1-59385-647-2.
Watson, D. (2003).  To dream, perchance to remember: individual differences in dream recall. Personality and Individual Differences, 34, 1271-1286 DOI: 10.1016/S0191-8869(02)00114-9

Monday, September 24, 2012

General knowledge and personality

In recent years researchers have been interested in the correlates of individual differences in general knowledge. Some psychologists consider acquired knowledge as an important component of intelligence. The concept of crystallised intelligence explicitly includes how much information a person has acquired in their life, and a number of IQ batteries, such as the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scales include measures of general knowledge. There is evidence that general knowledge is a solid predictor of academic performance (Furnham, Monsen, & Ahmetoglu, 2009).

A number of researchers have studied how general knowledge is correlated with personality traits, particularly those belonging to the Big Five model of personality. This model comprises the five broad traits of extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience. As far as I am aware, the correlations between general knowledge and big five personality traits have been reported in eight different papers, reporting the results of 10 different studies. A summary of the findings is provided in the table below. The first paper (Ackerman, Bowen, Beier, & Kanfer, 2001) examined only two of the Big Five (openness to experience and extraversion), whereas the remaining papers reported results for all five traits.

Eight of the ten studies used a general knowledge test developed by Irwing, Cammock and Lynn (2001). These authors defined general knowledge as consisting of culturally valued knowledge available through a range of non-specialist sources. The test they developed was intended to provide a comprehensive sample of the full range of domains of human knowledge. The test used in the study by Schaefer et al. (2004) was also intended to assess a wide spectrum of non-specialist knowledge. The study by Ackerman et al. (2001) assessed more specialised forms of knowledge, specifically from 19 domains of academic study encompassing sciences, humanities, and civics. Additionally, tests in each domain were designed so that questions were presented with increasing levels of difficulty and once a participant was unable to answer three consecutive questions each test was terminated. In this study, general knowledge was defined as a composite of these 19 domains. From this it appears that the “general knowledge” assessed in this study was of a more specialised and advanced type than that tested in the other nine studies. One possible implication of this will be addressed later.  

The trait most consistently correlated with general knowledge is openness to experience, which had a positive correlation in all studies. Openness to experience is known to be positively correlated with measures of IQ and is characterised by intellectual curiosity and interest in learning. Hence its connection with general knowledge does not seem surprising. Findings in relation to other personality traits have been less consistent. Some researchers have proposed that extraversion (Ackerman, et al., 2001) and neuroticism (Chamorro-Premuzic, Furnham, & Ackerman, 2006) would be negatively correlated with general knowledge. Extraverted people with strong social inclinations might invest less time in non-social activities associated with learning. High neuroticism is associated with test anxiety and hence with poorer performance on ability tests. Others (Furnham & Chamorro-Premuzic, 2006) have argued that conscientiousness might have a relationship with general knowledge, although whether this should be positive or negative is unclear. Research has found that conscientiousness has a modest negative relationship with intelligence, hence people high in conscientiousness might have less general knowledge. On the other hand, students high in conscientiousness achieve higher grades than their less conscientious counterparts and might be expected therefore to have more general knowledge. However, the studies shown in Table 1 reveal that extraversion, neuroticism, and conscientiousness have inconsistent correlations with general knowledge, as there is a mixture of positive and negative correlations for each of them.

Table 1. Correlations between Big Five personality traits and general knowledge in 10 studies

Study authors
Openness to experience
Ackerman, Bowen, Beier, & Kanfer (2001)
Schaefer, Williams, Goodie, & Campbell (2004)
Chamorro-Premuzic, Furnham, & Ackerman (2006)
Furnham & Chamorro-Premuzic (2006)

Study 1
Study 2
Study 3
Furnham, Christopher, Garwood, & Martin (2007)
Furnham, Swami, Arteche, & ChamorroPremuzic (2008)
Furnham, Monsen, & Ahmetoglu (2009)
Batey, Furnham, & Safiullina (2010)

Weighted mean correlation

Key: *p < .05; **p < .01 

In order to obtain a more accurate estimate of the true correlations between each of the five personality traits and general knowledge, a weighted average of the correlations for each study was computed taking into account the sample size.[1] The results are shown at the bottom of the table. Openness to experience is the only personality trait with a substantial correlation with general knowledge, with what could be considered a moderate sized effect. Extraversion and neuroticism had quite small negative correlations. These are in the direction predicted by Ackerman et al. (2001) and Chamorro-Premuzic et al. (2006) but the effect sizes are much smaller than expected. Conscientiousness has a very small positive effect, suggesting that it tends to be an inconsistent predictor. The effect of agreeableness is nearly negligible. As noted previously, the study by Ackerman et al. appears to assess a somewhat more specialist and advanced type of knowledge than the other studies. When this study is excluded from the analysis, the weighted mean correlation between extraversion and general knowledge becomes almost negligible (r = -.02), whereas the correlation between openness to experience and general knowledge barely changes (r = .31).

These results indicate that as far as the Big Five are concerned, characteristics associated with openness to experience, such as general curiosity, are the most relevant to how much knowledge of the world a person acquires. Traits such as sociability, emotional stability, and achievement orientation appear to be much less important. When considering the findings of the study by Ackerman et al., it seems possible that extraversion might have little or no relationship with relatively non-specialised forms of knowledge, but that this relationship is different for more advanced levels of knowledge usually acquired with special study. That is, people who are highly extraverted may have as much non-specialist knowledge as the average person, but acquire less knowledge at a university level than their more introverted counterparts. Studies comparing non-specialist and more advanced forms of knowledge within the same samples would help to determine if this is true.

Previous research has found a substantial gender difference in general knowledge, with men tending to have greater knowledge than women (Lynn, Irwing, & Cammock, 2002). The results presented here would suggest that gender differences in general knowledge are probably not due to differences in big five personality traits. Women tend to score higher than men in neuroticism and to a lesser extent extraversion and conscientiousness (Schmitt, Realo, Voracek, & Allik, 2008) but the correlations between these traits and general knowledge appear far too small to account for the substantial gender difference in general knowledge. Furthermore, men and women do not tend to differ on their overall scores on openness to experience. Openness to experience is usually considered to consist of a number of narrower facets, including openness to ideas, values, feelings, aesthetics, actions, and fantasy. There is research evidence that men tend to be higher on openness to ideas whilst women tend to be higher on openness to feelings (Schmitt, et al., 2008). Whether or not openness to ideas is more strongly related to general knowledge than the other facets has never been examined.

Openness to ideas has a very strong conceptual similarity to a construct called typical intellectual engagement (Mussell, 2010). A number of studies (Chamorro-Premuzic, et al., 2006; Furnham, et al., 2009; Furnham, et al., 2008) have found that typical intellectual engagement has positive correlations with general knowledge. However, a study by Furnham et al. (2008) found that overall openness to experience was a stronger predictor of general knowledge than typical intellectual engagement. This finding might indicate that the broad tendency to be open to new experiences generally, rather than a specific facet of openness, supports the acquisition of general knowledge. In a previous article I argued that gender differences in general knowledge may be related to a greater male interest in things as opposed to a greater female interest in people. Elsewhere I have suggested that gender stereotypes could play a role as well. Future research could explore the respective contributions of gender typical interests, stereotypes, and possible differences in openness facets to sex differences in general knowledge.

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© Scott McGreal. Please do not reproduce without permission. Brief excerpts may be quoted as long as a link to the original article is provided.  

Ackerman, P. L., Bowen, K. R., Beier, M. E., & Kanfer, R. (2001). Determinants of individual differences and gender differences in knowledge. Journal of Educational Psychology, 93(4), 797–825. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.93.4.797
Batey, M., Furnham, A., & Safiullina, X. (2010). Intelligence, general knowledge and personality as predictors of creativity. Learning and Individual Differences, 20(5), 532-535. doi: 10.1016/j.lindif.2010.04.008
Chamorro-Premuzic, T., Furnham, A., & Ackerman, P. L. (2006). Ability and personality correlates of general knowledge. Personality and Individual Differences, 41(3), 419-429. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2005.11.036
Furnham, A., & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2006). Personality, intelligence and general knowledge Learning and Individual Differences, 16, 79-90 DOI: 10.1016/j.lindif.2005.07.002 Furnham, A., Christopher, A. N., Garwood, J., & Martin, G. N. (2007). Approaches to learning and the acquisition of general knowledge. Personality and Individual Differences, 43(6), 1563-1571. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2007.04.013
Furnham, A., Christopher, A. N., Garwood, J., & Martin, G. N. (2007). Approaches to learning and the acquisition of general knowledge. Personality and Individual Differences, 43(6), 1563-1571. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2007.04.013
Furnham, A., Monsen, J., & Ahmetoglu, G. (2009). Typical intellectual engagement, Big Five personality traits, approaches to learning and cognitive ability predictors of academic performance. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 79(4), 769-782. doi: 10.1348/978185409x412147
            Furnham, A., Swami, V., Arteche, A., & Chamorro‐Premuzic, T. (2008). Cognitive ability, learning approaches and personality correlates of general knowledge.  Educational Psychology, 28 (4), 427-431 DOI: 10.1080/01443410701727376
            Mussell, Patrick (2010). Epistemic curiosity and related constructs: Lacking evidence of discriminant validity Personality and Individual Differences, 49 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2010.05.014
Schaefer, P. S., Williams, C. C., Goodie, A. S., & Campbell, W. K. (2004). Overconfidence and the Big Five. Journal of Research in Personality, 38(5), 473-480. doi: 10.1016/j.jrp.2003.09.010
Schmitt, D. P., Realo, A., Voracek, M., & Allik, J. (2008). Why can't a man be more like a woman? Sex differences in Big Five personality traits across 55 cultures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94(1), 168-182.

[1] This is based on the theory that larger sample sizes should be given more weight as they are more likely to provide an accurate estimate than smaller samples. When the results were compared to the unweighted mean correlations there was very little difference between them. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Precognition: Science meets Alice in Wonderland, part 2
Part 1 of this article discussed Daryl Bem’s studies on precognition and the failure of subsequent studies to replicate his results. This second part discusses reasons for the incompatibility of parapsychology with modern science and possible reasons why interest in this field persists in spite of its continued failure to establish its validity. Belief in the paranormal is commonly associated with magical thinking and mystical belief. Many parapsychologists seem to be motivated by a desire to establish the reality of a nonmaterial dimension of existence, and in particular that of the human soul. 

  Alcock (1987) has argued that there are two main views on what psychic phenomena (psi) might represent if real. One view is that psi will ultimately turn out to be something physical that will eventually be incorporated into an expanded version of the worldview of normal science. Other phenomena that were once regarded as inexplicable, such as the ability of bats to navigate in the dark, or of birds to navigate over thousands of miles, have eventually been explained in physical terms acceptable to modern science. In this view, psi will eventually be shown not to be ‘paranormal’ at all.
Philosophical implications of precognition were explored in the film "Minority Report"

  The other view is that psi is a manifestation of a nonphysical dimension of existence. In this view, psi represents a “radically different relationship between consciousness and the physical world” than is accepted as possible by modern science (Alcock, 1987). Therefore, disputes about psi represent a clash between two conflicting views about reality. The monistic materialistic view currently accepted in neuroscience regards mind as an emergent manifestation of brain processes. The view of many parapsychologists is the dualistic one that regards mind as at least partially independent of the brain. Parapsychology originally developed in the nineteenth century out of attempts to scientifically validate the concept of survival of consciousness/personality after bodily death, and this subject is still researched by parapsychologists today.

According to a survey 56% of parapsychologists believed that the results of parapsychological research indicate a non-material basis of life or thought, whilst 43% disagreed, and 1% had no opinion (Akers, 1987). This finding indicates that although there is diversity in what parapsychologists believe, the majority of parapsychologists do believe in a non-material dimension of reality, and hence believe in mind-body dualism. Many people feel that the existence of psi has important spiritual implications. According to Kennedy (2005), paranormal experiences are similar to mystical ones in that they result in an increased sense of meaning in life, interconnectedness, and spirituality. A survey of people who believe they have had paranormal or transcendent experiences found that 72% agreed that as a result of these experiences they believed that a higher power was watching over them.

Research has found that paranormal belief and experience, as well as mystical experience, are positively correlated with a number of psychological characteristics including absorption, magical ideation, fantasy proneness, creative personality, and manic experience (Thalbourne & Storm, 2012). The researchers argue that underlying all these tendencies is a psychological trait known as transliminality, “the tendency for psychological material (imagery, ideation, affect, and perception) to cross thresholds into or out of consciousness.” In other words, both paranormal and mystical beliefs are related to a propensity for imagination and fantasy.

Transliminality has also been used to explain why a substantial minority of scientists hold religious beliefs in spite of their commitment to empiricism (MacPherson & Kelly, 2011). MacPherson and Kelly found that religious scientists were higher than non-religious scientists in both self-rated creativity and in magical thinking, indicating greater acceptance of unconventional views of reality. Transliminality might be a factor in why parapsychologists persist in investigating paranormal phenomena in spite of the weight of evidence against psi. Alcock (1987) has criticised parapsychology as being incompatible with modern science because of its “anything goes, anything is possible” attitude. No speculation seems too wild for psi researchers. There seems to be no constraints on how psi is supposed to operate – it can work forwards or backwards in time, across thousands of miles of distance, or even between animals and objects. Psi operates like wishful thinking and no skill or knowledge is needed to make it work. Therefore, parapsychology might be attractive to people who are naturally prone to transliminality themselves. As noted in part 1, at least some parapsychologists believe that an experimenter’s attitudes to psi can have a paranormal effect on their participants’ results (the “experimenter effect”). This is an outright appeal to magical thinking to explain inconsistencies in research findings. Kennedy (2005) has argued that psi is difficult to replicate because of its ‘capricious’ and uncontrollable nature. This hardly seems indistinguishable from saying that psi only occurs when God or some higher power decides so. From an empirical perspective, a phenomenon that cannot be predicted or replicated lies beyond the realms of science.  

Some people have argued that although science has been successful in giving us greater control over our environment, it cannot provide a sense of meaning and purpose in life that has been traditionally provided through religion and spirituality (Kennedy, 2005). Although not all parapsychologists see psi as an indicator of a nonmaterial dimension of reality, spiritual motives do seem to be important for many of these investigators. This would seem to present a problem. A person seeking purpose, meaning in life and self-transcendence is hardly likely to find much help from parapsychology. Recent failed attempts to replicate Bem’s findings on precognition reflect a broader and repeated failure of the field to demonstrate the existence of psi, let alone that mind exists independently of the brain. Over a hundred years ago Frederic Myers argued that the duty of psychical researchers was “the expansion of science herself.” However, parapsychology seems to be incompatible with what is generally considered science and seems more akin to a fruitless form of mysticism. Sam Harris has argued that people can experience self-transcendence without necessarily believing in a non-material dimension of reality. This is an area that could be investigated empirically. Scientific research grounded in evidence is far more likely to produce insights into the nature of the relationship between consciousness and reality than the magical “anything goes” approach of parapsychology.    

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© Scott McGreal. Please do not reproduce without permission. Brief excerpts may be quoted as long as a link to the original article is provided.  

This article also appears on Psychology Today on my blog Unique - Like Everybody Else.

Akers, C. (1987). Parapsychology is science, but its findings are inconclusive. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 10(4), 566-568.
Alcock, J. E. (1987). Parapsychology: Science of the anomalous or search for the soul? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 10 (4), 263-291 DOI: 10.1017/S0140525X00054467
Kennedy, J. E. (2005). Personality and motivation to believe, misbelieve, and disbelieve in paranormal phenomena. Journal of Parapsychology, 69(2), 263-291.
MacPherson, J. S., & Kelly, S. W. (2011). Creativity and positive schizotypy influence the conflict between science and religion. Personality and Individual Differences, 50 (4) DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2010.11.002
Thalbourne, M. A., & Storm, L. (2012). Has the Sheep-Goat Variable Had Its Day? Testing Transliminality as a Psi Predictor. Australian Journal of Parapsychology, 12(1), 69-80. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Precognition: Science meets Alice in Wonderland, part 1

In 2011, Daryl Bem, who has the distinction of being both a respected social psychologist and an investigator into the paranormal, published a remarkable paper describing a series of experiments which he claimed provided evidence that people can be influenced by events before they have happened. In other words, precognition really exists and people have the ability to “feel the future.” This paper, which was published in the top tier publication Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, naturally provoked an enormous amount of controversy because it violates the common-sense view of causality that a cause always precedes its effect and never the other way around. Multiple attempts to replicate Bem’s findings have failed, suggesting that his results were due to methodological shortcomings rather than a breakthrough discovery about the nature of reality. Individual differences in personality traits associated with magical thinking may help explain why interest in parapsychology persists in spite of repeated failures to establish any credible evidence of the existence of psi.

Bem’s (2011) experiments involved taking a number of classic psychological procedures, such as priming, and ‘time-reversing’ them, so that the effects preceded the cause. For example, in two studies of retroactive facilitation of recall, participants were presented with a list of words and then asked to recall as many of the words as possible. Afterwards, they were asked to study a selected subgroup of these words. Bem found that participants were more likely to recall words that appeared in the list they subsequently studied. This reverses more usual priming procedures where people are exposed to a group of words that later appears in a list they are asked to recall.
  Imagine the implications for students taking an exam if Bem’s claim that studying material after being tested on it could retroactively improve one’s performance is true. They would be advised to carefully study the material after sitting the exam, focusing on finding answers to the questions they had just seen. One could test this experimentally by having participants sit a test they have not prepared for, and then providing half the participants with answers to the questions and asking them to study them carefully. The control group could be asked to study unrelated material. If the precognition hypothesis is true, the participants who study the answers after the test would be expected to do better.
  Bem actually introduces the concept of retroactive facilitation of recall by quoting the White Queen from Through the Looking Glass, who notes that people in her country can recall the future as well as the past. After reviewing the results of his nine studies he again quotes the White Queen’s famous statement about believing “impossible things before breakfast”.
Lewis Carroll anticipated Daryl Bem by over a century. Was this precognition?
  Bem claimed that the retroactive facilitation of recall experiments produced the largest effects of all the studies he ran and would therefore be the easiest to replicate. Two papers (Galak, LeBoeuf, Nelson, & Simmons, 2012; Ritchie, Wiseman, & French, 2012) have since been published reporting attempts to replicate these experiments. Together these two papers report the results of 10 separate experiments using Bem’s methods with a much larger combined sample. Only one of the ten experiments produced a significant result, although the authors (Galak, et al., 2012) report that when the results of their seven experiments were combined the overall effect size was close to zero. Additionally, Galak et al. performed a meta-analysis of all known published and unpublished attempts (comprising over 4,000 participants) to replicate Bem’s retroactive facilitation of recall studies. The overall average effect size was not significantly different from zero. Interestingly, studies conducted by experimenters who expected to get significant results did have a significant effect size, whereas those conducted by experimenters who did not expect to get significant results did not. Parapsychologists are familiar with this tendency for experimental results to match the biases of the experimenter and refer to it as the “experimenter effect” (Alcock, 1987). Amazingly, some parapsychologists actually claim this is due to a paranormal influence of the experimenter on the results! Furthermore, the effects reported by Bem were significantly larger than in any of the replication studies. Perhaps Bem has more paranormal power than other researchers? Ritchie et al. (2012) concluded from their failure to replicate that Bem’s findings were most likely due to methodological artefacts rather than a real paranormal effect. Referring to Bem’s allusion to Alice in Wonderland they suggested that psychologists do not “venture too far down the rabbit hole just yet.”
  Methodological artefacts that might have favourably biased Bem’s results have been carefully examined in detail here. I won’t go into detail about these, but will briefly note that there are signs that Bem may have massaged his data to make the results appear more favourable. For example, in more than one of the reported studies he changed the procedure mid-course without providing an adequate explanation for doing so. Normally, a change of procedure would be reported as a separate study. So it appears that Bem may have combined the results of initially separate studies after examining the data in order to present a statistically significant result. This falls short of outright faking of data but also falls short of rigorous and disciplined scientific investigation. An independent statistical analysis of Bem’s results found that the number of significant results he achieved was “abnormally high” considering the small size of the effects found (Francis, 2012). The author argued that Bem’s results have been selectively reported (that is, non-significant findings appear to have gone unreported) and therefore we cannot draw any scientifically useful conclusions from his paper. Francis concluded that the standards and practices of experimental psychology need to be raised to prevent misleading and biased findings from being published.
  The pattern that emerges here has been a common one in the history of parapsychology. A researcher publishes what appear to be revolutionary findings that if true would require that our current understanding of the universe be altered. Hardnosed scientists are understandably reluctant to revise well accepted notions about reality, so attempts at replication of the results are demanded, and these attempts invariably fail. Bem’s paper is not the first one making paranormal claims to be published in a prestigious journal. In 1974, physicists Targ and Puthoff published research evidence for remote viewing, the ability to observe events at a distance by non-sensory means, in Nature. However, this research was later discredited when independent researchers were unable to replicate it and found serious flaws in the remote viewing procedure that could account for the results (Alcock, 1987). In fact, over century of research in parapsychology has failed to produce any findings that could be replicated by independent experimenters under stringent conditions (Alcock, 1987).  
   It is reasonable to ask then, why would serious researchers, including someone as respected as Daryl Bem, continue to investigate a field that has failed to demonstrate that any of the phenomena it studies actually exist? Alcock (1987) argued that parapsychology is not just about a search for something that is currently unknown to science; it is fundamentally a quest to validate the existence of the human soul. That is, parapsychology represents a deep view of reality that is at odds with that of mainstream science.
The evidence for this claim and its implications are discussed in part 2 of this article.

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© Scott McGreal. Please do not reproduce without permission. Brief excerpts may be quoted as long as a link to the original article is provided.  

This article also appears on Psychology Today on my blog Unique - Like Everybody Else.

Akers, C. (1987). Parapsychology is science, but its findings are inconclusive. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 10(4), 566-568.
Alcock, J. E. (1987). Parapsychology: Science of the anomalous or search for the soul? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 10(4), 553-643.
Bem DJ (2011). Feeling the future: experimental evidence for anomalous retroactive influences on cognition and affect. Journal of personality and social psychology, 100 (3), 407-25 PMID: 21280961
Francis, G. (2012). Too good to be true: Publication bias in two prominent studies from experimental psychology. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 19(2), 151-156. doi: 10.3758/s13423-012-0227-9
Galak J, Leboeuf RA, Nelson LD, & Simmons JP (2012). Correcting the Past: Failures to Replicate Psi. Journal of personality and social psychology PMID: 22924750
Kennedy, J. E. (2005). Personality and motivation to believe, misbelieve, and disbelieve in paranormal phenomena. Journal of Parapsychology, 69(2), 263-291.
MacPherson, J. S., & Kelly, S. W. (2011). Creativity and positive schizotypy influence the conflict between science and religion. Personality and Individual Differences, 50(4), 446-450. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2010.11.002
Ritchie SJ, Wiseman R, & French CC (2012). Failing the future: three unsuccessful attempts to replicate Bem's 'retroactive facilitation of recall' effect. PloS one, 7 (3) PMID: 22432019
Thalbourne, M. A., & Storm, L. (2012). Has the Sheep-Goat Variable Had Its Day? Testing Transliminality as a Psi Predictor. Australian Journal of Parapsychology, 12(1), 69-80.