by Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Visiting Scholar, Rhine Research Center
There is a resurgence of studies of mediumship from different perspectives. Some examples are the following papers published during the last five years (2010-2014). I have limited the coverage to empirical studies (quantitative or qualitative) published in peer-reviewed journals, and to perspectives from psychology, psychophysiology and parapsychology.
Delorme, A., Beischel, J., Michel, L., Boccuzzi, M., Radin, D., & Mills, P.J. (2013). Electrocortical activity associated with subjective communication with the deceased. Frontiers of Psychology, 4, fpsyg.2013.00834
During advanced meditative practices, unusual perceptions can arise including the sense of receiving information about unknown people who are deceased. As with meditation, this mental state of communication with the deceased involves calming mental chatter and becoming receptive to subtle feelings and sensations. Psychometric and brain electrophysiology data were collected from six individuals who had previously reported accurate information about deceased individuals under double-blind conditions. Each experimental participant performed two tasks with eyes closed. In the first task, the participant was given only the first name of a deceased person and asked 25 questions. After each question, the participant was asked to silently perceive information relevant to the question for 20 s and then respond verbally. Responses were transcribed and then scored for accuracy by individuals who knew the deceased persons. Of the four mediums whose accuracy could be evaluated, three scored significantly above chance (p < 0.03). The correlation between accuracy and brain activity during the 20 s of silent mediumship communication was significant in frontal theta for one participant (p < 0.01). In the second task, participants were asked to experience four mental states for 1 min each: (1) thinking about a known living person, (2) listening to a biography, (3) thinking about an imaginary person, and (4) interacting mentally with a known deceased person. Each mental state was repeated three times. Statistically significant differences at p < 0.01 after correction for multiple comparisons in electrocortical activity among the four conditions were obtained in all six participants, primarily in the gamma band (which might be due to muscular activity). These differences suggest that the impression of communicating with the deceased may be a distinct mental state distinct from ordinary thinking or imagination. Evenden, R.E., Cooper, C.E., & Mitchell,G. (2013). A counseling approach to mediumship: Adaptive outcomes of grief following an exceptional experience. Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology, 1(2). In the last few decades there has been much corroborative research suggesting that exceptional experiences (EEs) during bereavement lead to improved coping and a healthy recovery from a negative emotional state . . . Aside from ‘spontaneous’ exceptional experiences and their impact on the bereaved . . . , ‘sought’ experiences such as mediumship can be an equally rewarding and positive experience for the bereaved. Few links have been explored regarding the counseling nature of mediumship with regards to bereaved individuals, and therefore this paper addresses such issues using a counseling approach and qualitative design. Results suggest that those who experience mediumistic counseling produced a high sense of agency, resulting in adaptive coping. Additionally, the findings suggest that areas of counseling, clinical studies and positive psychology would benefit from forming links with the findings of parapsychological research, with regards to the bereaved and their experiences.
Growing public interest in the phenomenon of mediumship, particularly among bereaved persons, suggests the need for renewed controlled studies of mediums, both to provide potential clients with criteria for judging mediums and to help researchers learn whether they can produce specific and accurate information to which they have had no normal access and, if so, under what conditions. Two research studies were conducted in which mediums provided readings about particular deceased persons to a proxy sitter. The real sitters then blindly rated the reading that was intended for them along with several control readings. In the first study, the results were not significant. In the second, much larger study the results were highly significant (z = 3.89, p < 0.0001, 2-tailed). The authors discuss 2 possible weaknesses of the successful study and indicate some directions for further research.
Maraldi, E. de O. (2014). Medium or author? A preliminary model relating dissociation, paranormal belief systems and self-esteem. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 78, 1-24.
One of the main characteristics of the automatic writing and automatic drawing observed at Brazilian spiritist centros is the attribution of authorship to external sources, usually of an allegedly spiritual kind. For many spiritist mediums, as for the ones the author has studied for two years, the final result of their productions is conceived as a (sometimes confused) mixture of personal and spiritual elements. Nonetheless, their graphic and pictorial material seems to be very interesting in psychological terms. In this paper, I propose a psychosocial model relating dissociation, paranormal beliefs and self-esteem that would better account for the qualitative data gathered at two spiritist institutions from 2009 to 2011. Participants were 11 mediums (9 women and 2 men, M = 47 years old, range = 29–65). It seems that some dissociative practices at the centros functioned, in many ways, as psychological elaboration of diffuse or impulsive emotions experienced in early childhood, in contexts of lack of affection, reppresive education and low socio-economic status, factors that could have helped undermine the medium’s self-esteem. Due to a lack of stimulation and encouragement to develop individual capacities, these individuals felt disconnected from their own potentials and creativity, which could have fostered the eruption of latent potentials in the form of automatisms and dissociative phenomena attributed to spiritual entities. Other factors like religious affiliation and level of paranormal belief could be involved in the process of causal attribution.
A category of religious experience that still preserves much of the original blurring and fusion between art and religion is mediumistic or spirit painting. Performed by spiritualist mediums in different locations around the world, this form of religious experience is characterized by the supposed ability of an individual to serve as an instrument for deceased artists to continue to perform their works. Little scientific research has been conducted concerning this topic. We present a brief analysis of painting activity performed by Jacques Andrade, a Brazilian medium. Born in 1945, Andrade, who has been active in the Brazilian Kardecist movement for many years, has dedicated most of his religious life to mediumistic painting at his center (The Leonardo da Vinci Salon of Mediumistic Art). Data about the medium were collected on several different occasions, from 1998 to 2013, and include psychophysiological measures (hand temperature, heart rate, bilateral skin conductance, muscle tension, and electrical brain activity), psychological measures (Dissociative Experiences Scale, Tellegen Absorption Scale, Revised Transliminality Scale, and Childhood Trauma Questionnaire), artistic material, observational data (photographs of paintings, observations of the medium in action), and some basic socio-demographic and biographical information. Basically we sought to evaluate: a) general aspects of the painting technique and style employed by the medium, b) the main features of his pictorial production, and c) the general behavior shown by the medium during the mediumistic activity. In an effort to combine and integrate our findings about this case, we propose a biopsychosocial approach to the study of what might be called creative dissociation.
Maraldi, E.O., Machado, F.R., & Zangari, W. (2010). Importance of a psychosocial approach for a comprehensive understanding of mediumship. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 24, 181–196.
[From the text] An exploratory study conducted by the Brazilian psychologist Everton de Oliveira Maraldi is offered here as the first step in a larger research project focused on psychosocial aspects of mediumship in Brazil. His study aimed to understand the use and meaning of mediumship and the paranormal beliefs connected to it in the formation of the psychosocial identity of Kardecist Spiritists. The research program draws on the theory of identity proposed by Ciampa . . . According to Ciampa, identity is in a constant state of transformation and metamorphosis, passing through different moral or cognitive stages of development. He also recognizes identity as a predominantly social phenomenon, that is all individuals contribute to the actualization of a group’s identity even if it is only in a potential way. Individual particularities reproduce universal particularities. Thus, group identity and individual identity are not disconnected.[The cases of two Brazilian mediums were analyzed by the first author considering mediumship as a life project (search for meaning), as a way to veil or unveil identity (how mediumship was masked or manifested), and as an ideology (manifesting Spiritist ideology)].
Peres, J. F., Moreira-Almeida, A., Caixeta, L., Leao, F., and Newberg, A. (2012). Neuroimaging during trance state: A contribution to the study of dissociation. PLoS ONE 7:e49360. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0049360
Despite increasing interest in pathological and non-pathological dissociation, few researchers have focused on the spiritual experiences involving dissociative states such as mediumship, in which an individual (the medium) claims to be in communication with, or under the control of, the mind of a deceased person. Our preliminary study investigated psychography – in which allegedly “the spirit writes through the medium’s hand” – for potential associations with specific alterations in cerebral activity. We examined ten healthy psychographers – five less expert mediums and five with substantial experience, ranging from 15 to 47 years of automatic writing and 2 to 18 psychographies per month – using single photon emission computed tomography to scan activity as subjects were writing, in both dissociative trance and non-trance states. The complexity of the original written content they produced was analyzed for each individual and for the sample as a whole. The experienced psychographers showed lower levels of activity in the left culmen, left hippocampus, left inferior occipital gyrus, left anterior cingulate, right superior temporal gyrus and right precentral gyrus during psychography compared to their normal (non-trance) writing. The average complexity scores for psychographed content were higher than those for control writing, for both the whole sample and for experienced mediums. The fact that subjects produced complex content in a trance dissociative state suggests they were not merely relaxed, and relaxation seems an unlikely explanation for the underactivation of brain areas specifically related to the cognitive processing being carried out. This finding deserves further investigation both in terms of replication and explanatory hypotheses.
Rocha, A.C., Paraná, D., Freire, E.S., Neto, F.L., & Moreira-Almeida, A. (2014). Investigating the fit and accuracy of alleged mediumistic writing: A case study of Chico Xavier’s letters. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, published online, June 14.
Context: The study of mediumship is important because if mediumistic abilities are real, they would provide empirical support for non-reductionist theories of the mind, thus having major implications to our understanding of the mind-brain relationship. This study investigated the alleged mediumship of Chico Xavier, a very prolific and influential ‘medium’ in Brazil. Objective: To investigate the accuracy of the information conveyed in Xavier’s ‘psychographed’ letters (i.e., letters allegedly authored by a deceased personality) and to explore the possible explanations for it. Method: After a systematic search for Xavier’s psychographed letters we selected one set of 13 letters allegedly written by a same spiritual author (JP). The letters were initially screened for the identification of items of information that were objectively verifiable. The accuracy of the information conveyed by these items and the estimated likelihood of the Xavier’s access to the information via normal means were rated using Fit and Leak scales based on documents and interviews carried out with the sister and friends of JP. Results: We identified 99 items of verifiable information conveyed on these 13 letters; 98% of these items were rated as ‘Clear and Precise Fit,’ and no item was rated as ‘no Fit.’ We concluded that normal explanations for accuracy of the information (i.e., fraud, chance, information leakage, and cold reading) were only remotely plausible. These results seem to provide empirical support for non-reductionist theories of consciousness.
The purpose of this study was to explore the personality and psychological wellbeing of Spiritualist mental mediums compared to nonmedium Spiritualists. A total of 159 Spiritualists (mediums = 80, nonmediums = 79) participated in a nationwide cross-sectional survey and completed measures of dissociation, boundary-thinness, psychological wellbeing, fantasy-proneness, and personality. Mediums scored significantly higher than nonmediums on psychological wellbeing, t = 3.80, p <.001, and reported lower psychological distress, t = 3.25, p = .00 1, but no significant differences were found between the groups on dissociation or boundary-thinness. Secondary analyses revealed significant differences for extraversion, t = 2.01, p = .046, neuroticism, t = 3.59, p = .001, and openness to experience, t = 3.21, p = .002, but not for fantasy-proneness, agreeableness, or conscientiousness. Findings suggest that mediumship is not associated with a reported incidence of dissociative experiences or pathology. Results are discussed in relation to previous research that has proposed the mediumship role may serve a therapeutic function.
Roxburgh, E.C. & Roe, C.R.(2014). Reframing voices and visions using a spiritual model: An interpretative phenomenological analysis of anomalous experiences in mediumship. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 17, DOI:10.1080/13674676.2014.894007
Throughout different civilizations and historical epochs, anthropological and religious texts have been replete with accounts of persons who have reported anomalous experiences in the form of visions or voices. In these contexts, such experiences are considered to be a “gift” that can be spiritually enriching or life enhancing. One such group of individuals are mediums who claim to receive information from spirits of the deceased in the form of auditory or visual perceptions. This study explores how mediums come to interpret their experiences as mediumistic and how they describe their relationship with spirit voices. In-depth interviews were conducted with 10 Spiritualist mediums using interpretative phenomenological analysis. Three themes were identified: “Childhood anomalous experiences”, “A search for meaning: Normalisation of mediumship”, and “relationship with spirit”. These themes illuminated aspects of the mediumistic experience that have therapeutic implications for individuals who have similar experiences but become distressed by them.
Roxburg, E.C., & Roe, C.A. (2014). “Say from whence you owe this strange intelligence”: Investigating explanatory systems of Spiritualist mental mediumship using interpretative phenomenological analysis. International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 32, 27-42. Walsh and Vaughan (1993) defined transpersonal experiences as those “in which the sense of identity or self extends beyond (trans) the individual or personal to encompass wider aspects of humankind, life, psyche or cosmos” (p. 203). One population who regularly report such experiences are mediums. In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with ten spiritualist mediums to explore their lived experience, such as how they communicate with the deceased, the meaning of spirit guide phenomena, and the role of mediumship, regardless of the actual ontology of mediumship. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) identified three themes: explanatory systems of mediumship, spirit guides as transcendental beings versus aspects of self, and the purpose of mediumship. These themes illuminated aspects of the mediumistic experience that have implications for an understanding of states of consciousness, transcendence, and the Higher Self.