What are mediums and how do scientists study them?

What is a medium?

Although many people report having had contact with the deceased, mediums are people who report having these experiences regularly, reliably, and on-demand and who share the specific resulting messages with living people called sitters during an event called a reading. Psychics, on the other hand, convey information about people, events, places, or times unknown to them but not about the deceased. It is often said that all mediums are psychic but not all psychics are mediums.

Video: What is a medium?

Explore more:

Article: Mental mediumship research. Psi Encyclopedia.

How do scientists study mediums?

Science is not a body of knowledge; it is a set of tools for answering questions. Those tools can be applied to nearly any topic, even a controversial one like life after death. At the Windbridge Research Center, we use the scientific method to test hypotheses about mediums’ abilities and characteristics and the impact of readings on the grieving.

Competent scientists follow the data wherever they lead and do not make unfounded assumptions about what is possible or about how the world works in reality. If they did act on such assumptions, we would still think the sun circled the Earth. Assuming that we fully understand every phenomenon in the universe is illogical. Many phenomena exist that science can’t explain. True science leaves room for discoveries. 

Just because something is “anomalous, the history of science suggests that this is simply not a good reason to ignore it” (Williams, 2019, p. 639). “Historically speaking, every major paradigm shift in science was literally a violation of the basic scientific principles of the time” (Westcombe, 2019, p. 619). All of the sciences, “including physics, periodically undergo conceptual shifts that account for previously unexplained observations” (Cardeña, 2019, p. 595). All practicing scientists don’t believe that suggesting “the existence of [psychic abilities] is somehow anti-scientific and thus can be safely ignored” (Braude, 2019, p. 543).

One criticism of mediumship in general is that because we can’t define clear mechanisms for how it works, any laboratory demonstration must be the result of fraud, error, chance, statistical manipulation, etc. 

Director of Research Dr. Julie Beischel notes:

“Some people don’t think things are real until they can explain how they occur. However, there are numerous ‘normal’ phenomena and we can’t really explain how or why they happen but we all agree that they exist and are potentially worthy of study.

Some of these are simple things we all have experience with like yawning, dreaming, and blushing and some are diseases and conditions we have at least heard of like multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, eczema, psoriasis, glaucoma, fibromyalgia, and any disease with ‘idiopathic’ in its title.

Because I was trained as a pharmacologist, the unexplained things that come to my mind are the many drugs on the market that work through mechanisms we don’t fully understand.  These include Botox and Fosamax; aspirin for most of its century of use (though now we know how it works); certain drugs that treat Parkinson’s (pramipexole), cancer (procarbazine, targretin), tuberculosis (ethambutol), malaria (halofantrine); and epilepsy (levetiracetam); the antibiotics clofazimine and pentamidine; many psychotropic drugs (for example, lithium); and the general anesthetics that keep patients unconscious during surgery… Just because we can’t explain how something works doesn’t mean we can’t employ it as a useful element in our daily lives.” (Beischel, 2013)   

In order to appropriately study the accuracy of mediums’ statements, it is important to optimize the research environment while also maximizing experimental controls (Beischel, 2007). In addition, researchers can use traditional methodologies like surveys and questionnaires to assess mediums’ characteristics and experiences.

Explore more:

Fact Sheet: Testing Mediums’ Accuracy Under Controlled Laboratory Conditions

Article:  9 phenomena that science still can’t explain

What does the scientific community know about mediums?

Contemporary mediumship research has examined the accuracy of the statements mediums provide as well as their unique demographic and psychological characteristics, experiences (phenomenology), physiology, and the potential clinical applications of mediumship readings in the treatment of bereavement.

Accuracy
Readings performed by 20 research mediums over the phone under controlled, more than double-blind, laboratory conditions that address alternative explanations for the source of the mediums’ statements such as fraud (hot and cold reading), cueing, overly general information, and even precognition, demonstrate the phenomenon of Anomalous Information Reception (AIR), that is, the reporting of accurate and specific information about deceased people or animals to the living people who survive them (called sitters) without prior knowledge about the deceased or sitters, in the absence of sensory feedback, and without using deceptive means (Beischel et al., 2015; see also: Testing Mediums’ Accuracy Under Controlled Laboratory Conditions.

Stated plainly:
Some mediums have reported true information about the deceased without having to use any shenanigans or monkey business.

Brain activity
EEG findings from six pre-screened mediums suggest that the specific mental state occurring during communication with the deceased may differ from normal thinking or imagination (Delorme et al., 2013).

Psychology
Research examining the psychological characteristics of mediums has demonstrated that they do not show symptoms of mental illness or disorders and they have greater psychological well-being and experience less stress than non-mediums (reviewed in Beischel, 2018). In addition, researchers at Yale have reported that the phenomenon of hearing voices exists on a continuum from health to disease (Powers, Kelley, & Corlett, 2016).

Demographics
Recent US surveys of 316 self-identified mediums compared to 1,068 non-mediums interested in similar topics demonstrated that both samples were roughly 90% female. These surveys also found that more mediums than non-mediums in the samples reported being left-handed.

Only 5% of self-identified mediums in a subsequent survey study reported being a participating member in an organized religion that includes spirit communication as part of its services (Beischel, Mosher, & Boccuzzi, 2017). The rest are what we term secular mediums; that is, not associated with any formal organization and who hold no organized belief system. This is in contrast to Spiritualist mediums studied primarily in the UK and Spiritist mediums studied primarily in Brazil.

Disease burden
Mediums may suffer from more physical ailments than non-mediums. Data showed that significantly more of the 133 mediums than the 234 non-mediums surveyed had been diagnosed with at least one autoimmune disease (35.2% vs. 18.9%, p < 0.001). The mediums surveyed also reported a significantly higher disease burden than non-mediums (8.08 ± 5.38 vs. 5.09 ± 4.17 out of ~80 symptoms, p < 0.000001; Beischel, Tassone, & Boccuzzi, 2019).

Experiences
The experiences of the modern, secular, American mediums that we have studied include: an altered state of consciousness; several mental sensory modalities functioning simultaneously, most often seeing, hearing, and feeling; specific bodily sensations; an emotional component; ‘just knowing’ information about the deceased; and an ability to differentiate between experiences of communication with the deceased and psychic readings for living targets (Beischel, Mosher, & Boccuzzi, 2017; see Peer-reviewed Journal articles for other specific study findings).

Grief
Extensive research exists demonstrating that spontaneous after-death communication experiences (ADCs) have a positive impact on grief. Anecdotal reports and pilot data suggest similar effects from assisted ADCs during readings with mediums but more research needs to be done to fully understand the effects (reviewed in Beischel, Mosher, & Boccuzzi, 2014-2015; see also: Grief and After-death Communication https://www.windbridge.org/grief-and-adc/ .)

Explore more:

Fact Sheet: Testing Mediums’ Accuracy Under Controlled Laboratory Conditions

Fact sheet: Disease Burden in Mediums

Fact Sheet: The Potential Therapeutic Benefit of Mediumship Readings in the Treatment of Grief

Current projects: Manuscripts

Video: A Survey of Secular American Mediums

 

References

Beischel, J. (2007). Contemporary methods used in laboratory-based mediumship research. Journal of Parapsychology, 71, 37-68.
 
Beischel, J. (2013). Among mediums: A scientist’s quest for answers. Tucson, AZ: Windbridge Institute.
Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/ dp/B00B1MZMHM/

Beischel, J. (2018). Mental mediumship research. Psi Encyclopedia.
https://psi-encyclopedia.spr.ac.uk/articles/mental-mediumship-research

Beischel, J., Boccuzzi, M., Biuso, M., & Rock, A. J. (2015). Anomalous information reception by research mediums under blinded conditions II: Replication and extension. EXPLORE: The Journal of Science & Healing, 11(2), 136-142. doi: 10.1016/j.explore.2015.01.001
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1550830715000063

Beischel, J., Mosher, C. & Boccuzzi, M. (2014-2015). The possible effects on bereavement of assisted after-death communication during readings with psychic mediums: A continuing bonds perspective. Omega: Journal of Death and Dying, 70(2), 169-194. doi: 10.2190/OM.70.2.b https://windbridge.org/papers/BeischelMosherBoccuzzi_AssistedADCs.pdf

Beischel, J., Mosher, C., & Boccuzzi, M. (2017). Quantitative and qualitative analyses of mediumistic and psychic experiences. Threshold: Journal of Interdisciplinary Consciousness Studies, 1(2): 51-91. http://www.tjics.org/index.php/TJICS/article/view/17/15

Beischel, J., Tassone, S., & Boccuzzi, M. (2019). Hematological and psychophysiological correlates of anomalous information reception in mediums: A preliminary exploration. EXPLORE: The Journal of Science & Healing, 15(2), 126–133. doi: 10.1016/j.explore.2018.04.009
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1550830718301265

Braude, S. E. (2019). Science doesn’t dictate what’s “impossible.” Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 33(4), pp. 541–548. doi: 10.31275/2019/1693
 
Cardeña, E. (2019). “The data are irrelevant”: Response to Reber and Alcock (2019). Journal of Scientific Exploration, 33(4), 593–598. doi: 10.31275/2019/1653
 
Delorme, A., Beischel. J., Michel, L., Boccuzzi, M., Radin, D., & Mills, P. J. (2013). Electrocortical activity associated with subjective communication with the deceased. Frontiers in Psychology, 4: 834. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00834
 
Powers III, A. R., Kelley, M. S., & Corlett, P. R. (2016). Varieties of voice-hearing: psychics and the psychosis continuum. Schizophrenia bulletin, 43(1), 84-98. https://academic.oup.com/schizophreniabulletin/article/43/1/84/2511864
 
Westcombe, A. (2019). I do not think that word means what you think it means: A response to Reber and Alcock’s “Searching for the impossible: Parapsychology’s elusive quest”. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 33(4), 617–622. doi: 10.31275/2019/1675
 
Williams, G. R. (2019). Should we accept arguments from skeptics to ignore the psi data? A comment on Reber and Alcock’s “Searching for the impossible.” Journal of Scientific Exploration, 33(4), 623–642. doi: 10.31275/2019/1681