Biases Continue to Haunt Parapsychological Research

By Elliott K. Van Dusen

December 26, 2020

A recent study published in the November-December 2020 issue of Explore (Volume 16, Issue 6) highlights one of the many contemporary challenges faced by parapsychological researchers. Dr. Bethany Butzer’s study “Bias in the evaluation of psychology studies: A comparison of parapsychology versus neuroscience”, explores how confirmation bias can easily undermine and discredit parapsychological research. Confirmation bias is the “tendency to seek and pay special attention to information that supports one’s beliefs, while ignoring information that contradicts a belief” (as cited in Goodwin & Goodwin, 2017, p. 6).

In her experiment, 100 participants with a background in psychology were presented with two virtually identical abstracts and asked to read and evaluate the article. 50 participants were provided with an abstract which discussed findings from a parapsychological aspect, whereas the other 50 participants were presented with abstract findings from a neuroscience aspect. Not surprisingly, participants came to the determination that the neuroscience abstract had stronger findings and were more valid and reliable compared to the parapsychological abstract. 

Dr. Butzer discovered a correlation between belief in transcendentalism and the rating of the abstracts. Those who had a higher belief or experience in parapsychology, consciousness, and reality, provided a more favourable rating toward the parapsychological abstract.

Although parapsychology research remains to be haunted by the misconception that it is a pseudo-science, this is simply not true. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has recognized parapsychology as a social science since 1969. There are many great examples of respectable scientists conducting and contributing valuable work in the field of parapsychology. A Canadian example is demonstrated through the work of the late Laurentian University neuroscientist, Dr. Michael Persinger. His research led to the discovery of the impact Earth’s geomagnetic activity can have on precognitive experiences. 

Dr. Butzer’s study is important because it remains a stark reminder to all that well educated and respectable researchers can consciously or unconsciously impose potential biases during their review and evaluation of parapsychological research based on personal belief and experiences. 

Anyone researching or investigating paranormal phenomena must strive to maintain an open and unbiased mind. After all, the very area you are working in appears to transcend the laws of nature as we presently understand them and operate outside the realm of human capability.


Butzer, B. (2019). Bias in the evaluation of psychology studies: A comparison of parapsychology versus neuroscience. Explore, 16(6). doi:10.1016/j.explore.2019.12.010

Goodwin, K. A., & Goodwin, C. J. (2017). Research in psychology: Methods and designs (8th ed.) Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

What Part of Canada is the Most Haunted?

There is no question that the east coast of Canada is the most haunted area of Canada.  The main reason is because it has been settled and fought over for the longest period of time.  It also has the most cosmopolitan heritage and folklore. English, French, Irish,  and Scottish are the strongest influences, but Native, German, Portuguese, Italian and Spanish have played their part too. The Portuguese, Italian and Spanish influences on the east coast are generally ignored and almost unknown, both in the timeline of history and their effect upon the land and the emerging culture and it’s representation in folklore. For instance, though Cape Breton Island was French for much of its history, the influx of Scottish after the Acadian deportation in 1755-57 has masked much of its heritage, and little evidence of the French occupation exists outside of Fortress Lousibourg and the  French areas and names between Port Hawksbury and the former port and fort Toulouse at what is now St. Peters.

So too, other than the story of Glooscap, Native folklore is ignored and generally unknown even though they have some of the most disturbing folk beliefs. Glooscap is over represented in Native mythology so much so that he obscures many more interesting aspects of Native mythology.

It is almost certain that the Norse were aware of Cape Breton Island though no archeological remains have been found. We know they must have been to the Miramichi River area to gather beechnuts that only grow there, and this, coupled with their exploration-minded mindset makes it almost certain they were the first people to explore and roughly map Atlantic Canada and eastern Quebec though nothing of their explorations still exists, either in the archeological record or in their literature. Still, only the most pedantic or obtuse observers could believe that the Norse only settled L’anse aux Meadows and didn’t dare go any farther.

After them came the Basque fishermen from France and Spain prior to Columbus discovering Central America and John Cabot discovering Newfoundland in the great European western migration. The Basque never established permanent settlements, and no one asked them about their fishing areas, so no one in power knew they were the second people in Europe to find North America. Thus, both the Norse and Basque folklore has not been recorded in relation to eastern Canada. We are instead left with primarily French, English, Scottish and Irish folklore. And there is plenty of that.  Much more than the rest of Canada, with Quebec following close behind because of its early settlement.  @haunted @ghosts @Canada

Ghost Stories: The Science Behind Sightings

There is no scientific evidence of a supernatural explanation for ghost sightings. But the parapsychologists have their arguments, too.

Published On 10/29/2013
9:00 AM EDT
| Elisa Lazo de Valdez/Corbis
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In an illustration from 1874, Anne Morgan — said to have been dead for two centuries — reveals herself under the name of “Katie King,” through spiritualistic mediums to ghost seekers in Philadelphia | Corbis
Taken in Norfolk, England, in 1936 by Capt. Hubert C. Provand, the so-called “Brown Lady Ghost” photo was published in Country Life magazine. | Wikimedia Commons
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Legend Tripping: Ghost Hunting Made ‘Real’

While many ghost hunters may claim to be seriously seeking spirits, folklorists have another term for it: legend tripping. ->

Published On 04/12/2013
5:01 PM EDT

Most of us have seen groups of ghost hunters, both on television reality shows and in real life. Nearly every city in the country has at least one local ghost-hunting group that periodically ventures out into cemeteries and other reputedly haunted locations seeking spirits on moonlit nights.

While many ghost hunters claim that they’re doing scientific research exploring the boundaries of science and the supernatural, folklorists have another term for this behavior: legend tripping.

“Many types of legend trips are common in the United States,” explains folklorist Bill Ellis in the American Folklore encyclopedia. “Often a baby is said to have died or been murdered, frequently at a bridge, and its ghost is said to cry at certain times. Or a person – man or woman – was decapitated in an accident, and a ghostly light lingers at the site of the tragedy.”

Legend Tripping

“Travel on legend trips is usually by automobile to a spooky location that is remote,” writes Jan Harold Brunvand, in his Encyclopedia of Urban Legends. “Legend trips function both as informal tests of the claims made in supernatural legends and as verification of the courage of the teens themselves, who may try to act out the legends they have heard by blinking the car lights a certain number of times, calling out for the ghost, or sitting on a cursed gravestone.”

The point, Brunvand notes, is not to do any real investigation but to simply have fun, and whether anything spooky happens – from a ghost appearing to a bird fluttering by in the night sky – doesn’t matter. The fun is in the pretending: “Even if nothing happens, the stories associated with legend-trip sites continue to grow and develop as they are passed in the oral tradition of several generations of teens.”

The legend of “Bloody Mary” is a common example, in which people (typically teenage girls) are dared to enter a dark room, either with or without a lit candle, stand in front of a mirror, and call Mary’s name a specified number of times to summon a dead woman’s spirit.

Depending on which version of the story is being told, Mary’s ghost may suddenly leap out and attack the person who looks in the mirror. It’s an obvious myth, but that does nothing to deter generations of girls from participating in the experience. In fact it’s one of the most popular urban legends in the world.

Ironically most ghost hunters aren’t familiar with folklore and don’t realize they’re engaging in legend tripping. To them it has all the trappings of a “real” ghost investigation or spirit hunt, and they claim to take it seriously.

“The stated purpose of such activities is not entertainment but a sincere effort to test and define boundaries of the ‘real’ world,” notes Bill Ellis in the book Aliens, Ghosts, and Cults: Legends We Live. “And even the most jaded participant in a legend-trip may be genuinely frightened by a sudden, unexplained happening.”

Thousands of ghost hunters have spent decades trying – and failing – to find hard evidence of ghosts. Surely real proof of life after death would be more likely discovered by scientists than amateur ghost fans walking around a cemetery at night with an electronic gadget they bought at Radio Shack.

Experience Not Evidence

If ghost hunts or legend tripping were about evidence, they would have been abandoned long ago. Instead the purpose is to have a fun time with friends being scared – or pretending to be scared – by things that go bump in the darkness. The same suspension of disbelief allows people to enjoy movies, books and video games. This intentional blurring of the lines between fact and fantasy is part of the enjoyment, of course. It’s more fun to pretend to expect ghosts to pop out than to acknowledge it’s all myth and legend. After all, everyone loves a good ghost story.

Though legend tripping and ghost hunting is mostly pretend and playacting, it does have its perils. But the danger doesn’t come from angry ghosts.

In 2006, an Ohio girl was shot while exploring legends about a haunted house near a cemetery. She and a friend were trespassing, and she was critically wounded when the house owner mistook them for vandals and shot at them.

A North Carolina man died in 2010 while legend tripping with friends. They gathered on a rural bridge hoping to see the ghost of a train that crashed there over a century earlier. Legends said the ghost train would materialize on the anniversary of the accident. No ghost train appeared, but a real one came around a bend and killed one man who couldn’t get out of the way in time.