Assessing the content of advice from practitioners claiming paranormal ability
This thesis focuses on both the development of methods for testing practitioners claiming paranormal abilities (i. e. astrologers, psychics and mediums) and the exploration of how they use various linguistic strategies to convince clients that they genuinely possess paranormal abilities. Paranormal claimants have been tested for decades with varying success. The results have provoked acrid debate, mainly focusing on the methodological issues. This thesis reviews the key issues in this debate, describes the formulation of a method of testing that aimed to prevent the many problems that have hindered past research, and how this was then used to test several professional practitioners from the main three paranormal domains. The empirical work examines the accuracy of the claimants then seeks to understand underlying linguistic causes for participants' acceptance of particular readings. Many researchers from the early 1900s involved primarily with mediumship were aware of natural psychological explanations for impressive alleged after-death communication. In addition, more recent research has examined the possible linguistic stratagems employed by pseudo-psychics to convince clients of apparent accuracy where there is none. To date this research has primarily focused on the Barnum Effect and taken a more process-oriented stance, manipulating various aspects of Barnum-type statements themselves (e. g. positive vs. negative wording) or the source (e. g. psychologist vs. psychic) to decipher the optimum conditions for acceptance. Little research, however, has examined the actual readings produced by claimants themselves. Taking it's lead from rhetorical psychology, and with a content analytic approach, this thesis examines the rhetoric of paranormal claimants using the actual readings produced in a controlled environment. The results from the accuracy tests did not support the existence of genuine astrological, psychic or mediumistic ability. Competing interpretations of these results are discussed, along with ways in which the methodology presented in the paper could be used to assess conceptually similar, but non-paranormal, contexts.