Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Into the Unknown: Using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis to Explore Personal Accounts of Paranormal experiences/A Lo Desconocido: USO del Analisis Interpretativo Fenomenologico Para Explorar Recuentos Personales De Experiencias Paranormales/ Dans L'inconnu: Utiliser L'analyse Phenomenologique Interpretative Pour Explorer Les Temoignages Personnels D'experiences Paranormales/ Hinein Ins

Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Into the Unknown: Using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis to Explore Personal Accounts of Paranormal experiences/A Lo Desconocido: USO del Analisis Interpretativo Fenomenologico Para Explorar Recuentos Personales De Experiencias Paranormales/ Dans L'inconnu: Utiliser L'analyse Phenomenologique Interpretative Pour Explorer Les Temoignages Personnels D'experiences Paranormales/ Hinein Ins

Article excerpt

The current paper focused on percipients' accounts of general subjective paranormal experiences (GSPE). Such narratives are of interest to wider society and academics because GSPEs are common (Haraldsson & Houtkooper, 1991) and experiences often affect individuals (Blackmore, 1988; Nelson, 1990; White, 1990). Schmied-Knittel and Schetsche (2005) provide a commentary on the prosaic nature of exceptional/paranormal experiences.

GSPE refers specifically to an experience that a person believes is paranormal, that is an exceptional experience beyond the comprehension of conventional science (Neppe, 1990). Further, disambiguation is provided by Irwin (1999), who refers to paranormal experiences as "apparent anomalies of behavior and experience that exist apart from currently known explanatory mechanisms that account for organism-environment and organism-organism information and influence flow" (Irwin, 1999, p. 1).

Misleadingly, the term anomalous experience has been generalized to paranormal experiences (Wilde & Murray, 2010). These terms, in their intended sense, possess different meanings. Anomalistic refers to extraordinary phenomena (behavior and experience) without the supposition of paranormality, bizarre experience being explained in terms of known factors. Semantic confusion may arise because extraordinary phenomena may be labeled as paranormal (French, 2001).

Cardena, Lynn and Krippner (2000) delineate usual experiences as encounters (experienced by a substantial amount of the population) that deviate from accepted explanations of reality. This definition is useful because it touches on an individual's perception of reality (considers personal experience), and raises important issues about the way in which society views anomalous experiences (Wilde & Murray, 2010).

Considering previous work on paranormal experience, several prominent studies have employed quantitative methods. The quantitative approach typically draws upon self-report measures, uses statistics and seeks to categorize data. A seminal example is John Palmer's Charlottesville (Virginia) survey, which explored the alleged incidence of subjective paranormal experience. Palmer (1979) developed a 46-item standardized questionnaire comprised of categories assessing: psychic experiences, psi-related experiences, psi-conducive altered states of consciousness, and psi-related activities. Surveys were posted to Charlottesville residents (300 students and 700 adults). Analysis of responses revealed two groups, respondents reporting no/few psi experiences vs. those reporting several. Despite limitations, Palmer's (1979) survey produced valuable findings and informed several subsequent studies (e.g., Blackmore, 1984). For example, Kohr (1980), developed measures of the pervasiveness of paranormal and related effects by summing the types of reported experience in each of Palmer's categories.

The paranormal literature contains other important examples of quantitative experience measures. One frequently used example is The Survey of Anomalous Experiences (SAE) constructed by Gallagher, Kumar and Pekala (1994). The SAE comprises 29-items addressing anomalous/uncanny experiences. If the participant acknowledged an experience, they were asked to clarify whether they attributed their experience to a specified paranormal vs. non-paranormal process. Additionally, other researchers have developed measures assessing both subjective experience and general belief. For example, Glicksohn (1990) constructed a 10-item scale comprising five beliefs about subjective paranormal experience, and five general beliefs about the paranormal.

Overall, the quantitative approach has made a valuable contribution to paranormal experience research: large databases collated, data systematically appraised, and general trends identified. However, the reduction of data to numeric values results in the loss of valuable experiential data. …

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