Smith, L.-A., Ryan, J., Roe, C. A. and Cooper, C. E. (2015) “It happens too frequently for me to be kind of coincidental”. A qualitative analysis of telephone telepathy experiences. Paper presented to: Joint Annual Convention of the Parapsychological Society (58th) and the Society for Psychical Research (39th) (PA-SPR 2015), University of Greenwich, London, 16-19 July 2015. (Unpublished)
Smith, L.-A., Ryan, J., Roe, C. A. and Cooper, C. E.
Telephone telepathy refers to the experience of thinking of someone who soon afterwards calls unexpectedly on the telephone (Sheldrake, 2000). This particular anomalous experience of what appears to be telepathy actively occurring in the real world is commonly reported, with many people professing to have experienced this at least once in their life (Brown & Sheldrake, 2001; Sheldrake, 2000; Sheldrake, 2003a, pp. 95-109). Lab based experiments carried out by Sheldrake and colleagues have indicated empirical support for the psi hypothesis, with findings of above 40% success when 25% was the mean expected chance score (Sheldrake, Godwin & Rockell, 2004). Independent replications have been less successful but have not refuted the original findings (Lobach & Bierman, 2004). Sheldrake has been critiqued for jumping hastily to conclusions supporting the psi hypothesis. Schmidt, Müller and Walach (2004) outlined Sheldrake’s weak experimental design which allowed for ‘sensory leakage’, arguing that in some cases participants began answering the phone before they had made a guess. Also, Sheldrake’s earlier non-videotaped trials (with no visitations from an experimenter) opened the possibility for cheating to occur (Sheldrake & Smart, 2003b). Schmidt, Müller and Walach (2004) ran 397 trials, and after the methodological improvements were introduced they obtained a hit rate of only 26.7% which was non-significant (p = .22). Thus, anomalous findings do not mean paranormal explanations, they may simply reflect experimenter effects and sensory leakage. Likewise, we have to tread carefully when drawing inferences between telepathy occurrences and evidence for psi. Emotionally bonded individuals although are mentioned in the literature to enhance telepathy, not all studies have found evidence for this (Moulton & Kosslyn, 2008). Telephone telepathy – despite scientific agreement on its ‘paranormal ontology’ – should be understood as an entirely real experience for the experient who interprets and reports the event. As researchers we need to treat the phenomena of telepathy as a real experience when considering interpreting our data. In 2010 at the annual International Society for Psychical Research conference held at the University of Sheffield, an initial qualitative project regarding telephone telepathy was discussed, with data collection ongoing at the time of presentation (Roe & Smith, 2010). The study aim was to move away from the previous quantitative approaches of exploring the coincidental nature of “guessing who is calling” against seeing if scores can be presented beyond chance, to focusing on the circumstances surrounding telephone telepathy and the experient’s interpretations of such events. Sheldrake had asked participants questions about their experiences, but these were often closed questions, and did not vary from participant to participant. This qualitative data produced only a limited collection of responses. Such questions asked by Sheldrake provided only restricted feedback into the real essence and insight of respondent’s lived experiences, and therefore such methods have faced criticism (Roxburgh & Roe, 2009; Smith, Harre, & Langehove, 1995). The present study adopted a qualitative design through conducting a series of focus groups. In total, 14 participants (13 female, 1 male; age range = 19-62 years) took part across 7 focus group sessions. Feedback was subject to a thematic analysis. In this talk, the initial findings will be presented focusing on themes of: identity, altered states of consciousness (in relation to psi conducive states), emotional attachment (between sender and receiver of the call) and evolutionary aspects and interpretations. Conclusions and alternative methods of analysis will be discussed.
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