Videos and Online Resources
Reach Chapters 2 & 11 in Groome & Roberts Textbook
Ch 2 covers ESP/telepathy fairly comprehensively. Ch 11 covers psychic fraud, which covers telekinesis somewhat and includes a couple other topics that we’ll spend more time on later (e.g., seances). Many of the explanations provided for seances in this chapter are readily applicable to other forms of psychic fraud (like telekinesis), so try to think about the connections that may be there even if they’re not spelled out explicitly. We’ll cover much of this again when we get to death/afterlife because many psychics claim to use their powers to contact people who have died.
This is a quick video that will show you what the basic Ganzfeld paradigm entails. There are some variations, but this is a nice overview to help you visualize.
Information about James Randi, one of the most famous psychic debunkers around. Pay particular attention to his dealings with psychics and other paranormal phenomena over the years, but especially his relationship with Uri Geller and Project Alpha. Side note, he’s the only person I’ve come across in studying this that is openly gay. Also, if you’ve seen the South Park episode where Stan’s father (Randy) starts doing magic with the name The Amazingly Randy, that’s a reference to this guy (it’s a vulgar bit, so don’t look for it if you’re put off by South Park humor)
Believe it or not, one of the best overviews of telekinesis I’ve found is on Wikipedia. Read the entire thing, but pay particular attention to the psychological explanations, which will come up a couple of other times in the course.
Credited as being the father of parapsychological research. Pay attention to his methods. I also like that he and his wife worked together on this (awww!)
One of the most famous concerted efforts to legitimately study paranormal phenomena. You should be able to remember the basic story including the motivation for starting this work, the main participants and what they did, and the ultimate conclusion of this work.
Another extremely famous effort to investigate paranormal phenomena. You should be aware of this, but don’t need to read everything. The first 3 introductory paragraphs (before “Background” is good enough unless you’re interested in more (it’s neat)
Read Ch 8 in Groome & Roberts Textbook
This is a great chapter. The beginning provides a good overview of how dreams work (in general) and then covers lucid dreaming and prophetic dreams, which are particularly relevant for this class. This description, together with the notion of spreading activation from the Khan Academy video and the article about the the role of emotions in dreams together paint a nice picture of how dreams can be somewhat prophetic in some cases, though not for the reasons that most people think.
Although the Freudian interpretation is interesting, pay particular attention to the second half of the video, which is important in understanding how dreams can be interpreted as being prophetic and how to try to understand what dreams are trying to tell us
This article discusses some sleep research, finding that dreams likely help us process emotions by attaching visual stimuli to them, which can then be forgotten
Read Ch 6 in Groome & Roberts Textbook
This chapter is a bit longer than I think it needs to be, so you can skim parts of it if you like. You definitely need to know the Five Basic Stages starting on page 70. Pay attention to the cultural differences and know at least 4 of the potential theories (none of them are great explanations for this in my opinion).
Read Ch 7 in Groome & Roberts Textbook
This chapter provides a great overview. It goes into far more detail than you’ll need for class, so if you’re trying to save time focus on the psychological explanations and influence of culture in claims like these.
This is a short 8 min story about reincarnation. In sum, the premise is that the entire universe was created as an egg for the main character (all of humanity), and once they have lived every human life ever, they will be born as a God.
Read Chs 3 & 4 in Groome & Roberts Textbook
These two chapters go together, covering contact with the dead including mediums, seances, possessions, and exorcisms. In chapter 3, pay particular attention to the psychological explanations for why people believe in contact with the dead. Also be sure that you understand the components of cold reading (there’s another reading for this as well). Finally, I find it interesting how the author ties many of these principles to contemporary practices in psychotherapy. For chapter 4, know both the neuropathological and sociocognitive explanations for possession. Know the difference between central and peripheral possessions and how excorcism can have functional benefits for societies (and of course, terrible, terrible experiences for the afflicted).
This figure depicts one explanation for why people believe they have experienced a paranormal event. Objective Manifestation refers to the actual stimulus that is detected in one’s environment (a knocking sound, the sight of something moving, a drop in temperature). Subjective Experience refers to how one experiences that stimulus. Usually, we interpret things the way they occur (a piece of fruit falls on the floor, it makes a sound, it comes through your ears, and your brain thinks “something fell on the floor). However, sometimes there’s a discrepancy between what actually happened and our interpretation of it. These are the Contagion Effects. We might mishear something because something altered the sound (the fruit hit something soft before rolling onto the floor and didn’t make a sound), because the sound actually came from something else (the dog walked by and hit the cabinet with her tail, making a sound that sounds like fruit falling), because we may be hearing impaired, or any number of other things. In those situations, it’s not clear exactly what happened. When there’s room for interpretation like that, people more readily accept paranormal explanations. In our example, if you found the fruit on the floor without hearing it fall; or if you thought you heard something fall and everything is in place then you might think you have a poltergeist that moved the fruit or made a knocking sound. We’ll watch a video with a woman who experienced a poltergeist that displays this principle, but here it is in visual form.
This goes with the graphic in the previous task. This is a fairly universal principle for this class and is readily applied to many different phenomena.
This is a nice overview of pareidolia, which is applicable in the context of many ghost and alien-related phenomena.
The ideomotor effect is used to explain many different paranormal phenomena including the Quija Board (seen here), dowsing rods, methods involving hanging/spinning/swinging weights or crystals, and others.
This article was written by Dr. Hyman, one of the most influential parapsychologists around. It expands on the information in the chapter nicely. South Park does a treatment of this in Episode 15, Season 6 that is a remarkably clear demonstration, if you’re familiar with that or want to look it up.
For this assignment, you will practice your ability to identify common elements of a cold reading. Watch this clip and think about which elements he uses. Take some time to jot down your thoughts and feel free to watch it several times to see if you can catch everything. Once you think you’ve caught everything, you can check my own synopsis and see if you agree with my interpretation.
This is a silly video of ghosts caught on camera. The point of this is to highlight how the background music and noises and camera angles help contribute to the suspense/fear on might feel while watching it. Try watching it on mute to see the difference. These tactics are used in movies and TV often.
The book mentions Doctor, the computer therapist that uses Rogerian therapeutic principles. I couldn’t find that one, but I found Eliza, who seems to do the same thing (she’s not great).
Quick overview of poltergeists if you’re not familiar with the concept
This provides a nice description of how wind can make ghost-y sounds in some situations.
Overview of one of the most famous and widely studied mediums
*This video contains images in which people’s private spaces (houses, apts) are violated. Some people may not want to watch. There are plenty of videos that depict secret intruders, there’s nothing particularly special about this one. Just another example of a phenomenon that people thought might have been a ghost or haunting, but sometimes is a living person hiding somewhere.
Read Ch 5 from Groome & Roberts Textbook
This chapter provides a great synopsis. You need to understand the ins and outs of sleep paralysis and other psychological explanations.
Watch and consider the psychological implications of the ways that aliens are typically depicted.
The Fermi Paradox is basically the question “if there are so many habitable planets in the universe, why haven’t we been contacted yet?” You should pay particular attention to the Drake Equation, the Arecibo message, and be sure to know most of the potential hypothetical explanations for why we haven’t made contact yet.
This is a list of the most popular types of aliens that are typically reported. Skim through this if you’re not really familiar with these. Also consider the implications/rationale for many of the descriptions. For instance, Grays are depicted as having large heads, small/weak bodies, and large eyes – all of which are related to stereotypes of intelligence. Aliens that look reptilian are typically evil. Those that look like dragons are aggressive. Those that look like tall White people are benevolent. Consider the applicability of the representativeness heuristic.
This is a thought piece on what form alien bodies are likely to take, based on a couple of different scientific and literary perspectives.
This is a nice treatment of crop circles. The punchline is that many of them have been human-made, but some still believe them to have paranormal or extraterrestrial origins
The Nazca Lines are another phenomenon that many claim to have been made by aliens – usually because it seems impossible that they could have been made by human hands (especially given how old they are), similar to crop circles. This article is written by someone who recreated one in Kentucky using primitive methods, suggesting that they probably aren’t alien in origin.
You can skip down to “Impact assessment” if you like. This article describes the likely psychological and cultural impact of contact with an intelligent alien life form. Think about how things like physical distance, type of contact, and content of message impact the likely reaction based on psychological principles we’ve covered in this class and you may have learned in other classes. You should also be somewhat familiar with the basics of the Declaration of Principles of Activities Following the Detection of Extraterrestrial Intelligence.” Would you make the same recommendations?
‘Cargo cults’ describe a commonly reported phenomenon in which relatively more primitive cultures are contacted by relatively more technologically advanced cultures. Members of the more primitive culture are so astounded by the ‘magical powers’ of the more advanced culture and want to benefit from those advances as well. However, they don’t understand how or why the technology works. They may build makeshift radios out of coconuts or other materials to try and communicate long distances, but of course they don’t actually work. They might build runways to try and coax planes into landing, bringing valuable cargo (this is where the term comes from). My favorite example of this is Prince Philip Movement, which is linked in the ‘current cults’ section of this article. Some believe that contact with a technologically advanced alien civilization may lead to similar reactions here on Earth, including the rejection of Earth-based principles/valuables/technology in hopes of gaining access to superior alien technology/principles/valuables.
This is a great overview of the idea that many of the great human advances (in evolution, in technology, in architecture, etc.) aren’t easily explained by natural causes and thus may have been given to us by aliens that visited very long ago (and have since left). It’s very intuitively appealing, but is another example of the logical fallacy such that ‘just because we can’t explain it, doesn’t mean it necessarily is caused by a paranormal source.’ Some achievements have since been explained (e.g., the building of the Great Pyramids in Egypt: https://www.livescience.com/45285-how-egyptians-moved-pyramid-stones.html) and some haven’t been yet. There is also something to be said about how similar many of the ancient accounts of beings coming from the sky are (in the religious texts and ancient artwork). Indeed, many religious accounts describe gods/angels/beings coming down from the sky. Joseph Campbell (and Erich von Daniken) summarizes many of these in his book, The Masks of God, and argues that the fact that there is so much consensus in common religious themes around the world, there must be some underlying psychological motivation that unites those narratives. He makes a similar argument related to the common hero’s journey/quest narrative in his book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” which you may be more familiar with (Luke Skywalker, King Arthur, Beowulf, and most ancient Greek heroes all follow similar paths, for instance).
Read Ch 14 in Groome & Roberts Textbook
This is a really great synopsis of many psychological phenomena that can be employed in understanding many of the paranormal experiences we discuss in class. Much of it will be review by this point, so feel free to skim sections that seem repetitive and focus more on new information. In particular, pay attention to the links the author makes between childhood trauma, fantasy proneness, and belief in paranormal experiences.
Read Ch 9 in Groome & Roberts Textbook
This chapter is a great synopsis and is not very kind to the notion that astrology can make valid predictions about the future. One thing that I think it interesting with this is that much of the work was done by Hans Eysenck, one of the most famous psychologists of all time. He was famous for research in personality and intelligence and was one of the first to claim that racial differences in intelligence test scores were due to environmental/cultural influences and not due to inherent differences (e.g., most people thought that Blacks were just mentally inferior to Whites based on biology). He got punched in the face, bomb threats, and threats against his family for going against this racist narrative. He was also the most cited living psychologist in the world when he died in 1997.
This is a great synopsis of what happened with the People’s Temple, giving appropriate attention to the beginnings of the group. In particular, note how Jim Jones was seen as a religious leader with an inspiring vision of a future full of love and racial equality (which was a flashpoint at the time – and remains so now). Looking back, it’s easy to see how things played out and say “I would never buy into something like that, those people are nuts.” However, these groups are very appealing at first and tend to change over time to the oppressive entities they become. The principles related to group cohesion, the power of authority, transformational leadership, minority influence, group polarization, the ‘foot-in-the-door’ phenomenon and many other psychological phenomena are extremely relevant here.
This briefly lists some of the most famous and violent cults in modern history. Notice that many of the different cults share the same qualities, including social isolation of members, strict rules/punishments, and religious/alien-related narratives. I’d encourage further reading on the Branch Davidians and Heaven’s Gate, as these are some of the most prototypical cult narratives.
This is a basic understanding of how cult leaders can use social psychological principles to control others. However, there’s a lot more to his, so I’m providing other readings to supplement this. This is a nice piece to pause think about our professional ethical responsibilities as psychologists/researchers/teachers/counselors, etc.
This is a short documentary of a contemporary cult leader in Siberia. It demonstrates many of the principles we’ve read about. There are also excellent documentaries about Jonestown, the Branch Davidians, the Rajneesh Movement (this one was local – outside the Dalles, OR; watch Wild, Wild Country on Netflix for this one). The cult depicted in this video has not turned violent, it seems.
This is a short business article that describes the four basic components of transformational leadership, which is the hallmark of leadership from IO psychology and management scholarship. These tactics are used by all effective leaders – in business, in government, in military, and (dun, dun, dun…) in cults. Again, we have to remember that social psychology is powerful and can be used for good as well as for evil. From this, you should know the four tactics and their definitions and think about how they can play out in a cult context.
In this video a former cult member describes her experience. It may elicit strong emotions and has some coarse language, so some folks may not want to watch it.
This is a nice introduction to Voodoo, which has been misunderstood and misrepresented in popular culture. Many argue that the parallels between voodoo spirits and Catholic saints made it easy to associate the two philosophies (e.g., the saint of XYZ often has a corresponding ‘loa’ in voodoo).
This is a quick biography of Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. Also of interest might be this short article on Veve, which are symbols used to conjure powerful voodoo spirits (e.g., Papa Legba)
Voodoo dolls are more of a popular stereotype related to voodoo than a very common practice, but this short article describes the psychological relationship between representations of people/objects and the people/objects themselves. This is likely due to the representativeness heuristic from social psychology.
Witches were prominent in Europe long before the events in Salem, Massachussetts. This 2-part series provides a great, though kind of long, account of the witch trials in England. Other witch trials spun out of the Great Inquisition in Spain and other countries. An entire class could be devoted to just this topic – we are focusing mostly on the causes and implications of the Salem witch trials, which occurred as the European witch trials were winding down already.
The Malleus Maleficarum is the book that was used to identify and prosecute witches. It was the most circulated book on the planet besides the Bible. The PSU library actually has a 1492 edition of the Malleus in their rare books collection. Last summer, I took the class to see it and it’s totally wild. With the current pandemic, we can’t do that this summer, but once things settle down and the library fully reopens you can schedule a time to go see it with the librarian or maybe we can get together and take a field trip sometime in the future. Under normal circumstances, those types of resources are available to the public and the librarians are happy to facilitate access. For this book, you aren’t allowed to touch it because it’s so old and rare, but they’ll flip the pages for you and give a history of the book.
This is an EXCELLENT documentary that focuses on the witch trials that occurred in Salem Village in the 1690s. It provides a good amount of context related to gender norms, religious influences, environmental concerns – all of which contributed to the events that happened. Pay attention to the psychological impact/influences of these circumstances. Also pay attention to WHO gets accused of being a witch initially (and why), who does the accusing (and think about why), and what happens when other types of people start getting accused. Finally, also pay attention to the lasting impact of the witch trials in terms of how we conduct legal investigations now (e.g., what is considered acceptable evidence, one’s status as innocent until proven guilty).
This is a short review of a much longer book, but this gives us a brief understanding of what I think is a really insightful taxonomy/classification system for the monsters/monster stories we’ve created over time. The basic idea is that monsters are created out of guilt/anxiety. Having stories in which our monsters come for us and are ultimately defeated works as a way for us to wrestle with things that are causing us anxiety. For example, monsters from nature (King Kong, Jaws, Tremors [one of my favs]) may represent guilt over wrecking the environment. Created monsters (evil robots, genetic experiment mistakes, Jurassic Park) may represent anxiety about parenthood or our ability to play god. Monsters from within (zombies, werewolves) represent anxiety with trying to negotiate our desires with our responsibilities. Monsters from the past (mummies, dragons) may represent guilt about abandoning or disrespecting sacred practices (this is also why ‘ancient Indian burial grounds’ are often depicted as haunted).
I like the Slender Man story because it’s one of the few times where a completely made-up monster (by design) manifested into something real enough to cause actual harm to a person. It’s like that old movie MTV made to make fun of boy bands, but then their songs actually did well on the music charts and they became an actual legitimate boy band. Or how Hanna Harto got a cooking show out of My Drunk Kitchen
These videos depict a strange illusion our eyes play on us with flashed images of faces. The second is the better of the two.
This article provides an overview of some of the reasons that we report seeing monsters from a cognitive/perception perspective. Another example from evolutionary psychology that I really love is children’s fears of sleeping alone and/or perceiving monsters in the closet, outside, or under the bed. Evolutionary psychology suggests that because we evolved as hunter/gatherers, leaving small children to sleep alone makes them vulnerable to being attacked by predators and children are thus instinctually pre-programmed to 1) not want to go to bed alone and 2) cry out when they are alone and perceive danger (which is especially likely at their age because they don’t have much experience distinguishing dangerous noises from harmless ones). At one point, I could have sworn that I also read that little boys are more likely to perceive monsters in the closet or outside and little girls are more likely to perceive monsters under the bed because in pre-civilization times female early-humans slept in trees and male-early humans slept on the ground, protecting the females above. So, danger for females came from below but danger for males came from the side. I can’t for the life of me find this anywhere now, so it may not be true…
There are plenty of lists of haunted objects – there’s nothing special about this one. Each one has its own more detailed backstory, so I encourage you to look around a bit more if you’re interested in this. For instance, in the case of the crying boy painting, it was also found that the string holding the painting typically burned quite quickly, which caused the painting to fall face down on the ground, preventing it from being burned with the rest of the house. That’s why the frames didn’t burn. What’s interesting about many of the haunted objects stories is many of the similar folktales, even though the objects are quite different. For instance, there are a lot of haunted dolls and mistreating the doll motivates the doll to seek revenge. There are stories about haunted objects that come from sacred places, and removing them invites a curse – but sending them back to where they came from removes the curse. Many people point to these stories as ways of working through guilt.
One of my favorite stories of paranormal phenomena is the mummy’s curse. It combines haunted places, haunted objects, the afterlife, and monsters (in some movies). You can skip down to the section called “Opening of King Tutankhamun’s Tomb” if you want to focus on the curse and implications itself. Another favorite that’s similar is the [article]. Apparently, several jewels have been stolen from Indian temples, often with legends of curses attached to them. All of these stories align within a taxonomy of monsters (covered in another topic), in this case a collective guilt about desecrating sacred/ancient/religious places, which contributes to fear and attributions of paranormal forces
In this video, participants report on the types of experiences they have in a haunted space, with commentary from experts
Some information about lunatic asylums. This is relevant to our class because many patients from years ago were thought to be possessed or suffering from some kind of paranormal affliction. Many asylums and prisons have been purposely designed to invoke fear and oppression in the inmates (look up images of the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia if you want to see an example of one of these). Finally, some folks argue that the prevalence of creepy prisons/asylums in scary movies is a way of coping with the collective guilt that we should (as a society) feel about the terrible conditions and procedures that inmates had to endure including electroshock therapy, trephination, lobotomies, induced seizures and comas, and extreme isolation.
This is a great short article that outlines the evolutionary, cognitive, and sensory features that trigger fear in haunted houses. They can be applied to houses and other spaces as well (e.g., prisons, asylums).
Here is a list of places commonly believed to have paranormal forces associated with them. There are many lists out there and each of these places has more information, so this is another area where you can do a lot of your own research. Many paranormal places are linked with other phenomena. For instance, spiritual vortexes are said to exist in Sedona, AZ (and several other places around the world) and these vortexes are said to attract UFOs. Some that I like that aren’t on this list are the ‘hum’ (reported around the world but heard most prominently in Taos, NM) which don’t seem to be linked to anything else; and the ringing rocks park in Pennsylvania, which are supposed to have supernatural healing properties.
These psychologists tried to leverage what we know about what causes some people to feel creeped out (like infrared and electromagnetic waves). Pay attention to the success rates and explanations they provide.