Chris French (Anomalistic Psychologist) gives expert video advice on: What is anomalistic psychology?; What is the difference between anomalistic psychology and parapsychology?; Is parapsychology a real science? and more...
What is anomalistic psychology?
Anomalistic psychology is essentially the psychology of paranormal beliefs and ostensibly paranormal experiences. So, most of the research is directed trying to come up with non-paranormal explanations for ostensibly paranormal experiences, and then see if we can find evidence to support those explanations.
What is the difference between anomalistic psychology and parapsychology?
The difference between anomalistic psychology and parapsychology is in terms of the aims of what each discipline is about. Parapsychologists typically are actually searching for evidence to prove the reality of paranormal forces, to prove they really do exist. So the starting assumption is that paranormal things do happen, whereas anomalistic psychologists tend to start from the position that paranormal forces probably don't exist and that therefore we should be looking for other kinds of explanations, in particular the psychological explanations for those experiences that people typically label as paranormal.
Is parapsychology a real science?
The question of whether or not Parapsychology is a real science is one that divides opinion sharply. Parapsychologist would insist that what they do is science. Many skeptics will see it as pseudo science. My personal opinion is that Parapsychology is a real science. Science isn't about a particular subject matter or content. It's about how you go about doing things. It's the method that's important. And as long as the Parapsychologist adopt the scientific method, whether or not paranormal forces exist is irrelevant. And if it meets that criteria, then Parapsychology is a science.
Do you believe in the paranormal?
Personally, I do not believe that Paranormal forces exist. But I'm certainly not so sure about that that I would say I know they definitely couldn't exist.On the basis of the evidence as I see it, I would bet money against it. But I would support Parapsychologists trying to find evidence that would convince me. So far that evidence isn't available.
Do you have to be a sceptic to be an anomalistic psychologist?
In practice, most people who describe themselves as anomalistic psychologists would also describe themselves as sceptics, but what they mean by sceptics is they are not actually dismissing these claims. They're saying show me the evidence; convince me. Scepticism in the proper sense is not about dismissal. It's about doubt, but being open to the possibility that you are wrong and that they other guy's correct.
Why do you think your work is important?
The reason I'm so fascinated by Anomalistic Psychology and Parapsychology is because most people in opinion poll after opinion poll actually believe in this stuff and a sizeable minority of them actually claim direct personal experiences of the paranormal. So, were there a situation that, where any claim from seeing a ghost, to experiencing telepathy, to even being abducted by aliens. There's a huge proportion of the population that actually believe in this stuff. Now, either that means that paranormal forces are real, if they are we should take that on board, accept it, and the wider scientific community should try and study those forces or alternatively, it's telling something very important about human psychology. So, either way it's worth taking those claims seriously.
What does a typical day involve for you?
A typical day for me as with anyone else working in a University will be divided between research, teaching, and admin. I will say nothing more about the admin. The teaching I enjoy thoroughly because anomalistic psychology not only really hooks the students in but it's a great tool to actually teach them the basic skills of critical thinking. Why some kinds of evidence should be given more weight than other kinds of evidence and it's also great fun. On the research side then the research will vary from setting up studies where we'll compare groups of people who believe in the paranormal with groups of people who don't believe in the paranormal in terms of how they interpret information, how they remember information, personality characteristics and so on and so forth. In an attempt to understand why some people seem to be prone to believing in the paranormal and some don't. On top of that there may well be media events, etcetera, etcetera, public education, so the day can be very, very varied there's no straight routine, but apart from the admin then I enjoy most of it.
What abilities do you need?
Other than the abilities that you need to be either a nomalistic psychologist or a parapsychologist. Basically, a respect for scientific method and the ability to handle qualitative and quantitative data. A lot of that will involve being able to understand and carry out statistical analysis, to know about experimental design, to know about how to test these kinds of claims properly. If you are a parapsychologist, you have a set of experiments that would rule out any non-paranormal explanations for any findings you may obtain. If you are a nomalistic psychologist, again you need to understand experimental design and be able to control for any confounding factors, and so on and so forth. And at the end of the day you'll be able to draw stronger conclusions from your results and hopefully be able to convince people that your hypothesis was correct.