As the word 'para-psychology' suggests, psychology plays a significant role in paranormal experiences and research. Where psychology studies behaviour and mental processes, parapsychology studies the apparent ability to interact with one's environment through means other than the currently understood sensory channels. The umbrella term 'psi' is used to denote extrasensory perception (ESP, where the mind seems to receive information from the environment) and psychokinesis (PK, where the mind seems to exert an influence over the environment). The above definition of parapsychology encompasses both 'what's not psychic but looks like it'-that is, pseudo-psi-and 'genuine' psi.
This chapter has two parts. First, a discussion of psychological explanations for everyday 'spontaneous' paranormal experiences. Second, a review of laboratory parapsychological research identifying important psychological factors.
Elsewhere, I and others have argued for the potential value of spontaneous experiences (Alvarado 1996, Watt 1994) in illustrating the operation of psi in naturalistic settings, and in helping to generate ecologically valid methods and meaningful hypotheses for further exploration in laboratory settings. However, the complex circumstances surrounding spontaneous paranormal experiences provide fertile ground for the operation of psychological factors. By its very nature, this first category of paranormal experiences offers many illustrations of pseudo-psi. The emphasis in my discussion of spontaneous experiences is on how normal psychological factors may operate to lead us to mistakenly conclude that something paranormal is going on.
On the other hand, the simplified and controlled circumstances in laboratory testing are intended to rule out pseudo-psi so that researchers may be more confident that their results are relevant to genuine psi. When discussing laboratory research, then, I stress the link between genuine psi and psychological factors. This emphasis is not meant to imply that all spontaneous experiences are pseudo-psi, nor that all laboratory research is