Biases Continue to Haunt Parapsychological Research
By Elliott K. Van Dusen
December 26, 2020
A recent study published in the November-December 2020 issue of Explore (Volume 16, Issue 6) highlights one of the many contemporary challenges faced by parapsychological researchers. Dr. Bethany Butzer’s study “Bias in the evaluation of psychology studies: A comparison of parapsychology versus neuroscience”, explores how confirmation bias can easily undermine and discredit parapsychological research. Confirmation bias is the “tendency to seek and pay special attention to information that supports one’s beliefs, while ignoring information that contradicts a belief” (as cited in Goodwin & Goodwin, 2017, p. 6).
In her experiment, 100 participants with a background in psychology were presented with two virtually identical abstracts and asked to read and evaluate the article. 50 participants were provided with an abstract which discussed findings from a parapsychological aspect, whereas the other 50 participants were presented with abstract findings from a neuroscience aspect. Not surprisingly, participants came to the determination that the neuroscience abstract had stronger findings and were more valid and reliable compared to the parapsychological abstract.
Dr. Butzer discovered a correlation between belief in transcendentalism and the rating of the abstracts. Those who had a higher belief or experience in parapsychology, consciousness, and reality, provided a more favourable rating toward the parapsychological abstract.
Although parapsychology research remains to be haunted by the misconception that it is a pseudo-science, this is simply not true. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has recognized parapsychology as a social science since 1969. There are many great examples of respectable scientists conducting and contributing valuable work in the field of parapsychology. A Canadian example is demonstrated through the work of the late Laurentian University neuroscientist, Dr. Michael Persinger. His research led to the discovery of the impact Earth’s geomagnetic activity can have on precognitive experiences.
Dr. Butzer’s study is important because it remains a stark reminder to all that well educated and respectable researchers can consciously or unconsciously impose potential biases during their review and evaluation of parapsychological research based on personal belief and experiences.
Anyone researching or investigating paranormal phenomena must strive to maintain an open and unbiased mind. After all, the very area you are working in appears to transcend the laws of nature as we presently understand them and operate outside the realm of human capability.
Butzer, B. (2019). Bias in the evaluation of psychology studies: A comparison of parapsychology versus neuroscience. Explore, 16(6). doi:10.1016/j.explore.2019.12.010
Goodwin, K. A., & Goodwin, C. J. (2017). Research in psychology: Methods and designs (8th ed.) Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.