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The Paranormal


A class discussion about the 'paranormal' is a great way to get your students thinking critically about a range of phenomena that appear to defy scientific explanation.


You could start by simply asking your students to raise their hand if they believe in various paranormal phenomena e.g. ghosts, communicating with the dead, telepathy, alien abduction, precognitive dreams etc. You should definitely also ask students who believe in psychokinesis to raise your hand!


It's always interesting to see how many students believe in the paranormal and how this compares with the public in general. Surveys typically find that 30-50% of respondents endorse beliefs in a wide range of paranormal phenomena.


Anomalistic Psychology



Anomalistic psychology may be defined as the study of extraordinary phenomena of behaviour and experience, including (but not restricted to) those which are often labeled "paranormal". It is directed towards understanding bizarre experiences that many people have without assuming a priori that there is anything paranormal involved. It entails attempting to explain paranormal and related beliefs and ostensibly paranormal experiences in terms of known psychological and physical factors. (Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit, Goldsmiths University of London).


It may surprise your students to learn that there is a branch of psychology dedicated to finding psychological explanations for experiences labelled as paranormal.


For instance, A number of 'paranormal' phenomena such as table-tilting, Ouija Board activity and dowsing can be plausibly explained by the ideomotor effect i.e., non-conscious muscular movements. And my personal favorite - auditory top-down processing explaining why people believe that they can hear Satanic messages in Rock music!



The 'paranormal' is a great topic to explore with your students; one that is practically guaranteed to stimulate both student enagement and critical thinking in equal measure.


Support Material


CLICK HERE for a fascinating Q & A with Dr. Chris French, Professor of Psychology and Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths University, London.