Mind reading and the ability to predict the future are not commonly connected with the human race. Despite this, research shows that a huge proportion of people believe in the existence of psychic abilities.
You’d expect that examples of documented psychic fraud would weaken the credibility of psychic claims over time. There are historical examples, such as Lajos Pap, a Hungarian spiritualist medium who was discovered making up animal appearances at seances. Then, more recently, self-described clairvoyant James Hydrick was exposed as a fraud. Hydrick claimed that his paranormal abilities were learned while jailed.
Despite such instances, many individuals continue to believe in the power of psychic ability. According to a Gallup poll conducted in the United States, more than one-quarter of individuals think humans have psychic talents such as telepathy and clairvoyance.
About the believers
Recent research may provide some light on why individuals believe in psychic powers. The researchers compared believers and skeptics with comparable levels of schooling and academic success and concluded that those who believe in psychic abilities reasoned less analytically. This suggests that individuals tend to perceive the world via a subjective personal lens and fail to objectively assess facts.
Because psychic claims are typically general and imprecise, such as foretelling a plane crash or celebrity death, so many people believe in psychic abilities. The Barnum effect is a common psychological phenomenon in which people view broad, general personality qualities as being uniquely applicable to them.
According to a study, people give high accuracy ratings to personality descriptions that are purportedly tailored exactly to them but are in reality imprecise and general enough to apply to a wide range of people. The name is a tribute to circus owner Phineas Taylor Barnum, who was a talented psychological manipulator.
Tough to validate
Many psychic claims have also proven to be hard to verify. Uri Geller’s claim that he “willed” the football to move during a penalty kick in Euro 96 is a typical example. Geller made the assertion retroactively after the ball moved spontaneously in an uncontrolled setting.
When claimed skills are tested scientifically, researchers often dismiss them. In the 2007 TV program The Million Dollar Mind Reader, Derek Ogilvie demonstrated this. Ogilvie sincerely felt he has powers, but he was not able to read the minds of newborns, according to the investigation.
When science has backed up psychic claims, there has usually been a backlash. This happened in the 1970s when physicists Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff published an article in the famous magazine Nature that validated Uri Geller’s claim to have true psychic talent. Psychologists such as Ray Hyman challenged this, pointing up severe methodological errors. A hole in the laboratory wall provided views of drawings that Geller “psychically” recreated.