In psychology, anomalistic psychology is the study of human behaviour and experience connected with what is often called the paranormal, without the assumption that there is anything paranormal involved.
On the hypothesis that paranormal explanations do not exist, researchers try to provide plausible non-paranormal accounts, supported by empirical evidence, of how psychological and physical factors might combine to give the impression of paranormal activity when, in fact, there had been none. Such explanations might involve cognitive biases, anomalous psychological states, personality factors, developmental issues, the nature of memory, the psychology of deception and self-deception.
The reason anomalous experiences are doubted is because it is regarded as a pseudoscience. A pseudoscience is a field of study that masquerades as a science but lacks certain important characteristics. There are features of anomalous research which suggest it is pseudoscientific. The list is adapted from Hines (2003):
The aim of the scientific process is to test hypotheses. It is not possible to prove a hypotheses correct, but you can prove it wrong (i.e. falsify it). In some cases, however, this is not possible. For example, a study may find no evidence of extrasensory perception (ESP). This would appear to prove the hypothesis that ESP exists is wrong. However, some paranormal psychologists then claim that the lack of supporting evidence occurs because sceptics are present and the phenomena disappear under such conditions. The end result is a non-falsifiable hypothesis. Many of the hypotheses relating to anomalous experience are of this nature.
Many studies of psi phenomena are highly controlled but many are not controlled and have failed to be replicated. If the study is replicated, but the original results are not confirmed, this puts the original results in doubt.
The aim of scientific research is to construct explanations for observations made about the world. Many paranormal phenomena have not, as yet, been given explanations that are likely. In the pseudosciences, a disproof usually results in criticisms of the methodology; in science it results in proposing an alternative explanation.
Supporters of psi phenomena require proof and say it is up to sceptics to disprove their reality. Such disproof is difficult because, for example, the hypothesis lacks falsifiability - it is hard to prove that a photo is fake. In science, as opposed to paranormal investigations, the burden of proof lies with the believer not the sceptic.
A key characteristic of science is that explanations are adapted as a result of hypothesis testing. This is not the case with psi phenomena which have continued to be explained in the same way for centuries despite a lack of evidence.
- What is anomalistic psychology?
- Prof Chris French explains anomalistic psychology on Pulse Project Expert Explanations.
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