A Common Thread Underlying Belief in the Paranormal, Creative Personality, Mystical Experience and Psychopathology

By Thalbourne, Michael A.; Delin, Peter S. | The Journal of Parapsychology, March 1994 | Go to article overview

A Common Thread Underlying Belief in the Paranormal, Creative Personality, Mystical Experience and Psychopathology


Thalbourne, Michael A., Delin, Peter S., The Journal of Parapsychology


In recent years the term paranormal has been used in an increasingly broad sense--rather too broad, we have argued (Thalbourne & Delin, 1993). For current purposes we take it to refer simply to any of three controversial classes of phenomena that are claimed by some to exist: extrasensory perception (ESP), psychokinesis (PK), and life after death. A good many people believe in such phenomena and even claim to have experienced manifestations of them, whereas others, particularly social scientists, reject any notions of this kind as error or wishful thinking. Though the present questionnaire-based study was set up to explore a large number of research possibilities, the initial aim was to contribute further to the growing literature on what psychological characteristics distinguish those who believe in or claim experience of the paranormal from those who do not. To anticipate our results, we believe that we have serendipitously made something of a breakthrough in our understanding of the findings in this area by discovering significant linkages between the topic of paranormal belief and other psychological phenomena, including mystical experience, creative personality, and a number of variables of psychiatric interest. But first we shall review the studies that have been conducted relating paranormal belief to each of these variables considered individually.

Mystical experience is generally described as an experience of ecstatic oneness with creation (or with God) and as being characterized by a profound sense of peace and an apparent illumination about the meaning of existence (Thalbourne, 1991). Significant positive correlations have been reported between paranormal belief or experience and (a) single-item measures of mystical experience (Palmer, 1979; Thalbourne, in press), (b) various specially developed measures of mystical experience (Kohr, 1980), (c) Hood's 1975 Mysticism Scale (Shafer, 1982), and (d) the positive mystical experience scale of the Assessment Schedule for Altered States of Consciousness (van Quekelberghe, Altstotter-Gleich, & Hertweck, 1991). We therefore predicted that in the present study paranormal believers would report a greater degree of mystical experience than those who did not report them.

Creativity could be characterized as a process in which two or more preexisting elements--whether they be colors or forms, musical notes or words, or ideas in general--have been put into a relationship that is arrestingly unexpected, a relationship that may variously be regarded as aesthetically appealing, mind-expanding, interesting, and even useful, depending on the context. Creative personality consists of various personality characteristics which, to quote Davis, Peterson, and Farley (1974, p. 33), "regularly haunt the literature describing the creative person." Three studies have examined the relationship between paranormal belief and creative personality, and all found that persons with stronger belief in the paranormal tend to have more of the characteristics of a creative person: Joesting and Joesting (1969) found this to be true in their studies using the Torrance Creative Motivation Inventory (Torrance, 1963); Davis et al. (1974) consistently found this in their data, using Torrance's (1971) "What Kind of Person Are You?" questionnaire and his Personal-Social Motivation Inventory, as well as ratings of actual creativity; and Moon (1975) found that visual arts students showed significantly higher belief in ESP than did students in other disciplines. We therefore predicted that a corresponding relationship of this kind would also be observed in the present study.

Richards claims that "there are proportionately fewer psychics in insane asylums than there are of anti-psychic people" (1991, p. 51). In contrast--and though mediums of course are not necessarily psychic--Marvin (1874) recommended that "spiritualistic mediums be hospitalized and given strong purges to cure them of their 'mediomania'" (cited by Mackenzie & Mackenzie, 1980, p. …

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