Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Experimenter Effects with a Remote Facilitation of Attention Focusing Task: A Study with Multiple Believer and Disbeliever Experimenters

Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Experimenter Effects with a Remote Facilitation of Attention Focusing Task: A Study with Multiple Believer and Disbeliever Experimenters

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This article reports the 4th study in a series investigating experimenter effects with a remote facilitation of attention focusing psi task. The "helpee" focuses attention on a candle and presses a button whenever he or she feels distracted. Simultaneously, the remote "helper" follows a randomised counterbalanced schedule of "help" and "control" periods. It was predicted that the helpee would have fewer distractions during the help periods compared with the control periods. Nine psi believers and 5 disbelievers were trained to conduct a psi session and then conducted 36 psi trials in total. It was predicted that participants tested by believer experimenters would show greater remote facilitation of focusing than those tested by disbelievers. Questionnaires measured participants' paranormal belief, expected and perceived success at the psi task, experimenter ratings, and experimenters' personality and cognitive ability. Overall, there were significantly fewer help presses than control presses, indica ting an effect of remote facilitation on the focusing task. Participants tested by believer experimenters had higher scores on the psi task than those tested by disbeliever experimenters, indicating an experimenter effect. There were no differences between participants or experimenters on the questionnaire measures.

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The experimenter effect, in which certain experimenters seem consistently to obtain positive psi results while others do not, is one of parapsychology's most vexing problems. It is perhaps a pivotal question for the issue of replicability of psi effects. Many researchers over the years have suggested different factors that may contribute to experimenter effects in parapsychology and these factors may not be mutually exclusive. The experimenter's own psi may be the source of the results in their experiments (see Stanford, 1981, 1990, for discussion of this thorny issue). In addition, successful experimenters may create a psi-conducive atmosphere or psi-conducive expectancies in their participants (e.g., Honorton, Ramsey, & Cabibbo, 1975; Schneider, Binder, & Walach, 2000; Watt & Baker, 2002; Watt & Brady, 2002) or may be adept at selecting participants likely to demonstrate psi in experiments (Parker, Frederikson, &Johansson, 1997).

There has been much discussion of the question of experimenter effects in parapsychology (see, e.g., Kennedy & Taddonio, 1976; Palmer, 1989a, 1989b, 1997; White, 1977). However, a consistent picture has not yet emerged from the empirical research on this question. For example, positively toned experimenter-participant interactions have been associated with significantly higher scores on an ESP task than negatively toned interactions (Honorton et al., 1975). However, a more recent study that compared neutral (computer-presented) instructions to participants with personally presented instructions found an effect size three times larger for the neutral than for the personal condition (Schneider et al., 2000). Disagreement also exists on the question of the characteristics of psi-conducive and psi-inhibitory experimenters. A study by Schmeidler and Maher (1981) asked undergraduate psychology students to judge videotapes of 5 psi-conducive and 5 psi-inhibitory experimenters (as defined by the authors on the basis of the experimenters' recent research). It was found that the nonverbal behaviour of the psi-conducive experimenters was judged to be significantly different from that of the psi-inhibitory experimenters on 14 out of 30 adjectives. However, a recent survey seems to suggest that it is not easy to define psi-conducive and psi-inhibitory. When parapsychologists were asked to rate the psi-conduciveness of 50 named researchers, opinions were inconsistent. There was only low to moderate agreement (i.e., 0% to 69% agreement on psi-conduciveness ratings) for over half of the researchers being rated (Smith & Gordon, 2002). …

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