The Psychology
of Paranormal Experiences

Instructor: Gerald Peterson
Saginaw Valley State University

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Course Outline :

  1. Introduction and Aims of Class
    1. Readings, Handouts, Research Questionnaires
    2. Science, Everyday Common Sense, and Pseudoscience
    3. General Scientific Principles and Critical Thinking Ideas

  2. Clear Reasoning and Clear Writing Explained
    1. Traps and Pitfalls of Reasoning
      a) Language Powers: clarity and mystification
      b) Dangers of symbols and metaphors
    2. Clear Arguments and Investigative Tools
      a) Aim to learn, not to beat
      b) What we can, cannot know, and how we know
      c) Types of evidence / argument

  3. Experience is Essentially Magic
    1. Childlike Magical Experiences
    2. Brain as Pattern-Seeker / Creator
    3. Attention and Perception
      a) Experience is taken as reality
      b) What makes something a real experience?
      c) Vividness, Imaging skills, mental set
      d) Aftereffects, images and illusions
    4. Physiognomics of Perceptual Experience
      a) Theatre, Context and Preconception
      b) Magic and Miracles of experience
    5. Social Relations / Suggestions / Interdependence
      a) Language and thought sharing in families
      b) Misattributions and Mystification in groups
      c) Social norms and social perceptions
      d) Clever Hans, Nonconscious and facilitated communication

  4. Applications of the Above
    1. The Social Psychology of Psychic Reading
    2. Pareidolia and Apparitions
    3. Ghosts and Alien Abductions
    4. Telepathy and Clairvoyance Experiences

  5. Consciousness, Memory, and Variations in Arousal
    1. Ecstasy, Fantasy, Ritual and Reality
    2. Dream States
      a) dream diaries, dream meanings
      b) brain activities: images and hallucinations
    3. Hypnosis
      a) arousal and dissociation
      b) social absorption and the social relationship again
      c) creating false memories

  6. Applications of the Above
    1. Past lives and alien abduction experiences
    2. Dreams and prophetic experiences
    3. False Memories / Comforting memories
    4. Multiple Personality Experiences
    5. Dissociative experiences: seances, automatic writing, etc.

  7. Functions of Experiences and Belief
    1. Socio-Cultural Adaptation
      a) being accepted, finding oneself, fitting in
      b) identity acquisition in social groups
    2. Making Sense of Things
    3. Being Responsible

  8. On Being an Investigator / Student
    1. Final Challenges and Review of Critical Thinking Tools
    2. How to Apply What We've Learned


  • Primary Text:
    Gray, W. D. (1991). Thinking Critically About New Age Ideas. Wadsworth Publishing: Belmont, CA.
  • Assigned Readings and Handouts by Instructor:
    Scientific Principles and Everyday Common Sense
    Reading List for Critical Thinking About the Paranormal
    Critically Evaluating Knowledge Claims
    Psychology Student's Manual for Investigating the Paranormal
    The Social Psychology of Psychic Reading
    Why I Believe in (the Social Psychology of) Mind-Reading
    Various Questionnaires / Handouts on: Mind-Body Dualism, Belief in the Paranormal Scale, Magical Ideation Scale, Writing Experience Reports, How to Be a Psychic Reader
  • Reference Text:
    A good General Psychology text